EXCLUSIVE: 'Making the team is great - now go win some trophies!'
Former great urges young Hibs stars to follow in famous footsteps
Guillaume Beuzelin gets it. Understands exactly why Hibs fans put such special emphasis on their club producing exciting young talent.
From the moment he walked into an Easter Road dressing room crammed with homegrown stars, the Frenchman knew he’d arrived at a special club.
Almost 20 years on from his first appearance in the famous green-and-white, he can still recall the buzz of a group that included – among others – Scott Brown, Kevin Thomson, Steven Whittaker, Derek Riordan, Garry O’Connor …
And, as he purrs with pride over the current crop of teen sensations breaking into the first team, the Academy Head of Coaching at East Mains makes no excuses for putting high expectations on his boys.
“When you mention that bunch of players, you have to remember that we finished third in the league (in 2004-05),” said the former midfielder.
“And a couple of years later, a lot of those guys were still there when we won the League Cup.
“So, yeah, we want to produce players for the first team. But we also want to be successful.
“The next stage for these guys is to do that. Getting into the squad is not the end of the journey for them.
“Now they have to produce, play well - and win trophies.”
Rory Whittaker becoming the youngest debutant in Hibs history, one of new gaffer Nick Montgomery’s first moves and a real sign of intent, has been followed with match day squad appearances for a number of other youngsters.
Like Whittaker, Josh Landers is still just 16. But both have now played for the first team. And both have been rewarded with long-term contracts.
Beuzelin, who likens the powerful Landers to a young O’Connor, is clear on what sets the very best prospects apart.
“For me, the one thing a young player needs is character,” he said, adding: “Yes, you have to be able to cope with the technical aspects and the physical aspects.
“But, if you don’t have the character to cope with all the pressure, you are missing a massive part of the game.
“Someone like Rory is a good example of what it takes. The manager came to watch the under-18s against Rangers and, obviously, Rory did well.
“The following Monday, the manager came in and said: ‘He’s training with the first team.’
“They train before us, so I got a chance to watch a bit of their session. And, wow, he just wasn’t fazed at all.
“He took the opportunity with two hands, looked so confident in that company. He wasn’t scared to get on the ball and, even if he made a mistake, he reacted straight away.
“He didn’t crumble just because he was up against grown men. And the manager liked that, you could tell.
“There are a lot of good players who just crumble under pressure. They can be great in training and, for whatever reason, they can’t produce in games.
“But if you have character and confidence, that can compensate for a little lack of physical or maybe even technical ability. Because they make mistakes – but aren’t afraid to go get the ball back again. Teams need that type of player.
“Josh is another good example. Obviously he has deficiencies in his game, things he has to work on. He knows that and the manager knows that.
“But he has shown great attitude, he’s a machine when it comes to working.
“He reminds me of Garry O’Connor, who I played with. Maybe not exactly the same stature but good strength, is very quick and direct, has a really powerful shot.
“He probably needs to work on his link-up play. But he’s only 16 years old! It’s crazy.”
The first team can still be a tough room, as the old comics might put it. As welcoming and encouraging as the old pros might be to kids trying to steal they’re places, veterans aren’t easily impressed by a flash of tekkers and the odd nice touch.
Invited to recall the best breakthrough talent from his own playing days, Beuzelin – who spent four seasons adding a touch of class to the Hibs midfield – settled on a future Scotland striker who took his first big strides in the senior game at Easter Road.
“I think Steven Fletcher was the one who impressed me when he came into the team,” he said, adding: “Because Scott Brown and a few others were already in the first team when I arrived.
“Fletcher didn’t start the season with us - but we knew he had great quality for his age, brilliant skills.
“When he came along to training, we all looked and said: ‘OK, this guy has something different.’ You can tell, as players, when a young guy has something.”
Turning his focus back to the present, Beuzelin has been pleasantly surprised by Monty’s immersive approach to talent production, revealing: “From day one, the manager has been looking to promote young players.
“Very early on, he actually watched the under-11 and under-12 training! That was a great boost for everyone involved, I can tell you.
“He’s not scared to take even some 15-year-olds from our squads and get them involved. We’ve got another one who hasn’t played for the first team yet – but he’s been training regularly with them, which is another great step forward for us.”