Former Hibs winger Ivan Sproule reflects on management as he reveals which coach had biggest impression
Tactics, coaching, dealing with injuries, recruitment, and media duties are just some of what the man or woman in the hotseat at any club has to deal with on a daily basis. Certain scenarios are easier than others – just ask Ivan Sproule.
Having had a taste of management with hometown side Dergview in Northern Ireland after hanging up his boots, Sproule feels qualified to speak about the trials and tribulations of football coaching. During a 17-year playing career he worked under the likes of Gary Johnson, Steve Coppell, and John Collins, among others. While his own experience may have differed compared to the clubs he represented as a pacy winger, he agrees that he has learned what makes players – and managers – tick after a two-and-a-half year spell at the helm of the Darragh Park outfit.
At Dergview, Sproule had to turn to the sort of transfer approach that saw him snapped up by Hibs in a cut-price deal in January 2005. As talk turns to the current run of form for his former club, he draws on his own experiences in the dugout as he reflects on the last few games and the upcoming fixtures for a club he served over two spells, and still follows.
It helps that he knows Lee Johnson well, having played alongside him and assistant manager Jamie McAllister during their time at Bristol City. He classes the pair as friends and is sympathetic to the position they currently find themselves in with Hibs in the wrong half of the cinch Premiership table with just one competitive win since the start of October – a 3-0 victory over St Mirren.
“I dipped my toe into management in the Championship back home in Northern Ireland with Dergview. At our level you had to find rough diamonds and improve them. Managing players is the skill and that is what Lee’s biggest job is – making the players believe again,” Sproule says.
Hibs travel to face Rangers on Thursday night before hosting Livingston on Christmas Eve. Celtic are next to visit Easter Road before the early January trip across town to face Hearts in the Edinburgh derby. Sproule knows a thing or two about playing, and beating both Glasgow teams, and credits one man in particular with instilling the sort of attitude he feels Hibs need now.
“Tony Mowbray made you believe you were going to win no matter where you went. Whenever we went to play Celtic or Rangers, or played them at Easter Road, he would have you thinking you would win. He made us feel we always had a chance, and that if we did our jobs and we played to our strengths we could beat anyone,” he recalls.
“That, for a footballer, is a massive, massive thing. We showed no fear of Celtic or Rangers, they always won the league and dominated, but when it came to those one-off games we had the mindset we could beat them.
“That’s where the really good managers excel. They might not have the best or the most technically gifted players but they get every ounce out of what they have. They get commitment, energy and drive out of their team.”