There appears to be a strong feeling among the Rangers fraternity that Hibs will fold meekly at the first sign of a few hundred grand just because Scott Allan, a boyhood fan of the Ibrox club, is keen to join them.
In ordinary circumstances, any player with only a year left on their deal who intimates a desire to leave would usually be sold upon receipt of any kind of satisfactory offer. After all, why keep an unhappy player when you could pocket a few quid and use the funds to replace him with someone who really wants to play for you as opposed to losing him for nothing at the end of the season?
The situation involving last season’s Championship player of the year, Allan, his current club, Hibs, and his main suitors, Rangers, is nowhere near as cut and dried as that, however. There are two significant issues at play here that make the Allan saga more complicated than most.
The most important point in all of this – one which appears to have been overlooked by the Rangers support who believe their club will get their man for peanuts – is that Hibs and Rangers are generally perceived to be direct rivals in a two-horse race for the Championship title. Allan is, without argument, Hibs’ key man. Most of the good things they do come through him. He has even added goals to his game this pre-season, something which, if he can continue when the campaign kicks off, will make him an even more formidable proposition in the second tier.
If he goes to Rangers, barring any stage fright or unlikely form loss, he will automatically become their talisman. It doesn’t take a genius to establish that, with the two teams fairly well balanced on paper, Allan leaving Hibs for Ibrox would make Rangers overwhelming favourites for the title. Whatever price they are offered, Hibs are effectively being asked to relinquish their best hope of winning the Championship.
Securing a return to the Premiership is estimated to be worth at least £1 million to the Easter Road club. As both Rangers and Hibs found to their cost last term, going up through the play-offs is a long shot and not one worth relying on. At this stage, for these two big guns of Scottish football, winning the title and avoiding a third successive season in the second tier is all that matters.
Unless offered an amount that is worth their while – at the very least a seven-figure sum or some decent Rangers players, perhaps Nicky Law and Dean Shiels, thrown in as makeweights – there is no value whatsoever in Hibs allowing their main man to head to Ibrox.
The situation would be entirely different if it was Celtic, or pretty much any other club for that matter, in for Allan. It would merely be a case of accepting the cash and moving on. For instance, Dundee United fans could just about tolerate the sale of Nadir Ciftci to Celtic because they know their club have little hope of challenging the Glasgow giants for the title anyway. The fact their club got top dollar, £1.5m, for a player whose contract was due to expire in a year and who was keen to leave made it look good business in the end.
Yet this was in stark contrast to January when there was a major supporter backlash after Gary Mackay-Steven and Stuart Armstrong were sold to Celtic just six weeks before the clubs were due to meet in the League Cup final. While Allan would be free to play for Rangers against Hibs in all league matches if he were to go west, Mackay-Steven and Armstrong weren’t even eligible to play for Celtic in the final.
Yet, letting their direct rival remove two of their best players from the equation was deemed by the United faithful as an act of sabotage by the board to their team’s hopes of picking up a piece of silverware they genuinely felt they could win. To add fuel to the fire, the two teams were also drawn together in the Scottish Cup. Celtic won both matches and United’s season unravelled spectacularly.
The issue of supporters’ anger brings us to the second pertinent point of the Allan situation: the prospect of outright mutiny among the fanbase.
Hibs, with chief executive Leeann Dempster at the forefront, have spent the past year working hard to rebuild burnt bridges with their disillusioned support. From the angry protests and demonstrations of last summer, there is now harmony and genuine optimism about the club. The sale of Allan to a direct title rival would wipe that out in an instant and undermine all the good work done to entice fans to buy into the idea that Hibs, widely criticised for cashing in on the crown jewels in the past, are a club with genuine ambition of re-establishing themselves at Scottish football’s top end. The suggestion has been put forward by many of a Rangers persuasion that Allan’s desire to move to Ibrox will force Hibs’ hand. If he doesn’t go now, they claim, he’ll down tools and sign a pre-contract in January, subsequently putting himself in a conflict of interest if, as expected, the two are vying for the title. This is a risk worth taking for Hibs, though. An unhappy player on the books has to be a more favourable proposition than an angry fanbase withholding their cash and their support from a club still at a delicate phase of its rebuilding process following the catastrophe of relegation just 14 months ago.
Indeed, such talk does a disservice to Allan, if nothing else. From an entirely neutral perspective, his desire to join Rangers is understandable. Despite the widespread mockery of the Ibrox club in light of their recent travails, they are still a huge draw to any young player, especially one who has grown up in Glasgow supporting the club. The wages on offer at Ibrox will be significantly greater than those at Hibs. Allan, who has just welcomed a baby son into the world, could enjoy a very comfortable lifestyle, living in his home city, remaining close to his family and playing for the club he supports. He only returned a year ago from a testing adventure in England which didn’t go to plan, so it is understandable that he is in no rush to head back south.
Despite his wish to join Rangers it is still hard to envisage him simply refusing to play if his move west continues to be blocked. He is mature enough to know that, even if he doesn’t go this summer, he will have his pick of clubs in a year, Rangers included. Going in a huff and upsetting the harmony at Hibs would do his public image no favours, especially in light of the cloud under which he left Dundee United as a teenager.
As well as a close bond with his team-mates, Allan has a good relationship with Alan Stubbs, the Hibs head coach, who has placed his neck on the proverbial chopping board by declaring that the player will categorically not be sold to Rangers. On an entirely human level, Allan, who has always come across in media dealings as a decent young man, would surely be wary of jeopardising this and upsetting the man who has played a big part in getting his career back on track.
For all that he wishes to play for Rangers, he will know that he has not got it bad at Hibs. They have the look of an upwardly-mobile club, Allan is idolised by supporters and he is part of a close-knit dressing room. This is something the 23-year-old has never previously had in his stop-start career.
If Allan has been encouraged by Rangers to ask to leave, the Ibrox club certainly haven’t done the player any favours in terms of their approach to wresting him from Easter Road. Their meagre opening bids have made them look both cash-less and class-less and, if there was any doubt in the Hibs boardroom, their disrespectful overtures thus far will have increased the Edinburgh club’s resolve to keep him. Had there been a bid closer to £1m on the table, it would have at least strengthened Allan’s hand when he informed Hibs that he was keen to join Rangers.
The Ibrox club are sure to come back with increased offers as transfer deadline-day – still five weeks away – draws closer, but unless they enter the realms of ‘silly money’, the Scott Allan stand-off has to be viewed more as a matter of principle than pounds for the Easter Road outfit.