Hibs chief: I never thought Alan Stubbs was a gamble

Alan Stubbs and Leeann Dempster have built a solid working partnership to the benefit of Hibs
Alan Stubbs and Leeann Dempster have built a solid working partnership to the benefit of Hibs
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His arrival at Easter Road raised more than a few eyebrows. Alan Stubbs, of course, was well-known this side of the border after his time playing for Celtic, but while the former defender had built up a formidable reputation in the world of youth coaching, he was untried at first-team level.

To all intents and purposes, it looked something of a gamble by newly-appointed Hibs chief executive Leeann Dempster and George Craig, an equally recent arrival in the post of head of football operations, their recommendation made to the board of the Capital club following a late evening meeting in a Manchester hotel.

Stubbs, who had driven south having attended a cancer charity event in the west of Scotland that day, had impressed them hugely but, nevertheless, the fact remained that he was to all intents and purposes a rookie manager at a time when Hibs were reeling from the shock of relegation and the fall-out which had seen angry protests at the doors of Easter Road.

Hibs had, of course, gone down that route before, appointing Tony Mowbray, a highly-respected youth coach at Ipswich Town and another former Celtic defender seeking his first taste of management, as the surprise successor to Bobby Williamson a decade earlier, a move which caused similar questions to be asked.

Mowbray, as we know now, proved to be an inspirational appointment. Back in the summer of 2004, however, circumstances were entirely different. Hibs were in the SPL and Mowbray was about to inherit that “golden generation” of Garry O’Connor, Derek Riordan, Scott Brown, Steven Whittaker and Kevin Thomson, augmenting them with signings such as Dean Shiels and David Murphy.

It was a scenario strikingly different to that confronting Stubbs, a club in the second tier of Scottish football and one with barely enough players to field a team.

However, like Mowbray, Stubbs has proved the sceptics wrong. Granted he may have missed out on his primary target of immediate promotion, but there’s no doubt the Liverpudlian has caught the fans’ imagination, re-introducing an entertaining style of play and displaying a shrewd eye for a player. Having brought the likes of Scott Allan, Dominique Malonga, Liam Fontaine, Farid El Alagui and Fraser Fyvie to the club those signings have been augmented in the past couple of weeks by the arrival of James Keatings and Dan Carmichael.

But none of this has surprised Dempster, who told the Evening News: “I never ever viewed it as a gamble if I’m to be perfectly honest. I was very aware of Alan and his career, of what he had done at Everton and the structures he worked within.

“There he was essentially running the core development squads at Everton, was used to the structures that George and I had built into our football plan, having individual key support staff around you to help you make decisions and for you.

“He was really familiar with that. It was a huge bonus for him if you like because he had been embracing everything we wanted. We knew he had been a terrific footballer, had played at the highest level, had captained and I think when you meet somebody you know.

“I used to work in advertising and you’d go and pitch for business and knew within 60 seconds whether you had won the business or not, whether the person liked you or not.

“When George and I met Alan I think we knew almost immediately that he was absolutely the type of person who knew what we wanted to do. I’m sure he had to think long and hard because it was a huge challenge. He was in an excellent environment at Everton and I’m sure he had many opportunities.

“Whether we were just very persuasive on the day I’m not quite sure, but it’s worked out tremendously well for everyone. I don’t think I could be happier with his contribution both on and off the field, there’s been nothing we’ve asked him to do that he has shied away from.

“I’m happy that he has come up to Scotland. He’s very committed to Hibernian and the group of players and that’s important getting players to sign again.”

However, as key a figure as Stubbs has proved to be in the revitalisation of Hibs, he stands in the centre of a strong support team, not only consisting of his assistant Andy Holden, first-team coach John Doolan and goalkeeping coach Alan Combe, but figures such as Craig Flannigan, head of sports science and fitness, Paul Green, strength and conditioning coach, physios John Porteous and Kitty Mackinnon and Graeme Mathie, head of player identification and recruitment.

And, as far as Dempster is concerned, recruiting these individuals is as important as finding the players who take to the field each Saturday.

She said: “Players come and go, managers come and go, but we are trying to build something here with longevity. We want to make every player here as good as he possibly can be. We give them, Alan and his coaches the tools they need to do their job. Many clubs are moving in this direction now.

“The head coach ultimately make decisions about who is coming in, he decides the attributes they are looking for and we go and find them. Alan is sitting in the middle of the technical side of things but he absolutely needs those tools and these guys. That’s what they are there for.

“This is about building the plan over an initial three-year period. We are 140 years old this year, we already have our eyes on what is going to happen in the next five, ten years.

“Sports science, strength conditioning and scouting does not just apply to the first team, it trickles all the way down. There’s been pretty significant changes across the whole club. They are there, too, in the Academy where Eddie May is really putting his own stamp on it.”

And tangible proof of how it’s all working came, Dempster believes, with Fraser Fyvie’s decision to sign a new two-year contract. The midfielder arrived in Edinburgh on a short-term deal after cutting short his contract with Wigan following an unhappy spell with many expecting the highly-rated former Aberdeen player to move on rather than continue his career in the Championship.

Dempster said: “It shows we are doing more things right than wrong. When it comes to the football side of things the feedback from Fraser and others who have come to the club is that they are enjoying their day-to-day here, really enjoying Hibernian.

“To get someone like Fraser to commit to the club demonstrates that ambition.”