Hibs boss signals summer cull as 'difficult conversations' loom

Room for a little one? Hibernian Training Centre could be very crowded if every player under contract turned up for pre-season.Room for a little one? Hibernian Training Centre could be very crowded if every player under contract turned up for pre-season.
Room for a little one? Hibernian Training Centre could be very crowded if every player under contract turned up for pre-season. | SNS Group
Veteran striker to leave as Monty looks to trim bloated squad

Hibs boss Nick Montgomery wants to preside over a massive cull of the first-team squad – and jokes that it would take every inch of the training ground at East Mains to accommodate a 50-strong group of currently contracted players for pre-season. Monty confirmed today that Adam Le Fondre will be the next big name to depart in the summer, following this week’s announcement that veterans Paul Hanlon and Lewis Stevenson would be moving on.

He’s preparing to have tough conversations with some of the EIGHTEEN players out on loan, as he looks to build a core group of 20-24 footballers capable of bringing success. And the club have also decided to scale back their development squad, relying on under-18s to act as back-ups for the first team.

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Montgomery said: “Ideally you would probably want 20-22 players, if you keep everyone fit. Maybe 24, with young players on top of that. Right now, that means guys like Rory Whittaker, who can still play under-18 football next season, still play competitive games at their age level – but also play in the first team and reserve games.

“But a squad of 45-50 players contracted at the minute, that we’ve got, it’s too big for a club like Hibs. We obviously haven’t had those numbers actually on site this season, because we’ve got 18 players out on loan. But, if they all came back in the summer for the first day of pre-season, I would probably need all four training pitches at HTC to play the games on!

“The club went down the route of development players. But we’ve all agreed, as a club, that what the fans want to see – and the most important thing – is a strong XI, a strong bench.

“That’s the process we’re going through at the minute, trying to reduce the number of contracted players at the club – and bring in quality over quantity. That’s something we’ve all agreed on, as the direction of the club, moving forward.”

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While a number of the on-loan players fall into the youth category, Hibs also have senior pros like Harry McKirdy, Riley Harbottle, Nohan Kenneh, Ewan Henderson and Allan Delferriere currently plying their trade elsewhere. It’s hard to see any of those featuring in the first team next season.

Monty said: “You have to be honest in these conversations. If I don’t feel like they can come back and play in the first team next season, then they’re too old to play in the under-18 team.

“Because we only have an under-18 team. There is no 23s, there is no real reserve team, so that’s just the situation at the club.

“When we’ve looked at all the players out on loan, I have to be honest as a manager. Knowing the expectation on the club, I need players that I know can make an impact straight away next season.

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“Those are honest conversations and difficult decisions you need to make but one or two could come back and may not be able to move on. I am always somebody that gives a second and a third chance, but they have to be at that level they can play in the first team - and that’s a difficult decision. It’s a big expectation.

“The reality is some will come back; some may leave in the off season. But, while they’re under contract, they’re part of the club. You have to have those discussions with players and their agents. That’s a job in itself.”

Montgomery, who genuinely believes Hibs are “not far” from competing for European football next season, confirmed that veteran English striker Le Fondre will be allowed to enter free agency when his contract expires in a few weeks, saying: “I’ve known Adam a long time, his family live down south and he spent three or four months out with a knee injury. Alfie’s a big character.

“Those discussions have been that there likely won’t be a contract for him here next season. Alfie’s the ultimate professional, an out and out goal scorer – I’m sure he’s got a lot to offer moving forward.

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“But he’s getting to the age now where he’ll be looking at what he’s doing moving forward. It’s not been a concrete decision, but it’s been discussions where it’s likely he will move on and be back with his family down south.”

The manager insisted no final decision had been reached on former Scotland goalkeeper David Marshall, also in the closing days of his contract, saying: “With Marsh, it’s always been that we’d get to the end of the season and sit down. That’s what the man deserves, he’s been absolutely outstanding for me this season.

“When I came in, people questioned whether he should be number one but if anyone tell me there’s been lots of better goalkeepers than David Marshall in the league, I’ll deny that. He’s been outstanding.

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“He’s picked up a few niggles, but he looks after himself really well. I’ll sit down with Marsh at the end of the season and see what he’s thinking, but right now it’s about focusing on the last three games starting with Aberdeen on Sunday.”