Hibs already planning for next season as Jack Ross reveals Ron Gordon talks
Hibs are plotting a prolonged period in the higher echelons of the Scottish game and they have devised a strategy that they believe will allow them to do that by advancing more young players into the first team.
The success of Josh Doig has illustrated the rewards for promoting from within and, laying out a strategy that would leave room in the first team squad for other youngsters to move into and prove themselves, discussions about next term are already well under way between owner Ron Gordon and the football staff.
Discussing the best way to bolster the squad as they look to build on this season’s achievements, manager Jack Ross revealed that primary focus has been on identifying areas of the team which require strengthening rather than simply rubber-stamping a budget.
“We have already had dialogue and meetings about what we might need to do in terms of the squad and that depends on who we may lose and who we might not lose and what areas of the team we would need to strengthen in both scenarios.”
When the chairman addressed the AGM and the media before the full impact of the Covid 19 pandemic was understood, the Peru-born, American-based businessman spoke of increasing turnover by 50% by 2023 and 100% by 2025.
Stating his desire to see the club compete regularly in Europe he also said that he would double the player budget by 2023.
The ambition remains. The timeline has shifted slightly on certain goals but, having invested money in the squad this term, in the summer and again in January, Gordon seems keen to maintain that forward momentum and plan ahead rather than simply firefight.
While transfer fees for under-contract stars could help finance any summer spending spree, if the suitors who pursued the likes of Kevin Nisbet and Ryan Porteous in January resurface during the next transfer window, the squad budget could also be affected by where the club end the league season, if they secure European football, and at what level and at what stage they enter the Uefa competitions.
But according to Ross those differing scenarios have not been overtly aligned with specific budgets.
“None of those discussions have been based on where we finish positionally. They have all been about what we need to do regarding specifics of the squad. I think we are actually in a fairly stable place.”
Much of that is down to the work done throughout the season to extend contracts and although there are no certainties in football it gives Ross a far clearer picture of who he has to work with and what deficiencies need addressed.
A lot of work has gone into helping the club chase greater consistency and continuity, in terms of achievable ambitions and personnel, there is the parallel desire to keep evolving.
Both Gordon and Ross have made no secret of their intention to mould the Easter Road club into a more regular top three finisher in the Premiership, as well as challenging for silverware each season. They are also striving to become more dependable European competitors.
But in laying out short-term goals, Ross says they also want to be proactive in offering aspiring and talented youngsters a route through the ranks.
That colours his opinion on the size of his squad and his willingness to focus on quality over quantity when reaching out this summer.
“I prefer the numbers we have worked with this year. But we will probably have to look at underpinning that a bit more with development squad players. That has been part of the discussion. The only reason we were left a little light at times this season was down to circumstances, because we haven’t been able to dip into the development squad at short notice.”
Different testing bubbles and protocols have proved restrictive but Ross wants to make sure that when those barriers come down, there is enough talent available to offer his first team squad the necessary support.
“In my discussion with Ron we have spoken about making that group as strong as possible, either by working with those who have come through the ranks internally or by recruiting externally to bolster that group. That will provide them with better development possibilities and help to underpin the first team.”
When Hibs last finished third, in 2004/05, Tony Mowbray’s squad comprised an array of youthful prospects. Along with the performances of both Josh Doig and Steven Bradley this term, Ross says that proves that club’s can enjoy success with a blend of youth and experience.
“Everybody talks about bringing kids through, everyone loves that ideology, but you need room in your first team squad for it to happen. If the squad is too big it blocks the pathway and I don’t want us to just talk about it, I want us to back up all the nice words with action.
“But we have to do it in a way that means we are still successful and challenging at the top end of the league and consistently taking this club into Europe because that is where a club like Hibs should be.”
Back in February last year, when Gordon was talking of boosting player budgets, he was just as clear on his ambitions.
"We want to be in the top four and compete in every competition,” he said. "Being in Europe on a consistent basis is a very significant aspiration but not out of the realm of possibility.
"We have a long way to go because Aberdeen has a substantially higher budget and turnover, the same with Hearts. But we need to move up that ladder.”
At the time he described it as an ambitious goal and the pandemic has probably cranked up the difficulty level. But that hasn’t stopped Gordon and Ross putting their plans in place.