In his mid-20s, at the peak of his powers, having just earned international recognition, and running out of contract at a buoyant top-four Scottish club with which he has won the Scottish Cup, Dylan McGeouch’s current situation at Hibs resonates with Scott Robertson.
Six years ago, Robertson was a vital cog in the midfield of a Dundee United side thriving under Peter Houston. Having just turned 27 and with his stock high, he rejected the chance to stay at Tannadice in favour of a move to Blackpool, then in the English Championship. Ultimately, the chance to try something different and test himself at a higher level outweighed the appeal of continuing his career in Scotland at a club which, at that point, was one of the most burgeoning in the country.
Robertson is well positioned, therefore, to give an insight into what McGeouch, his former Hibs team-mate, will have to ponder as he weighs up whether to extend his fruitful four-year stay at Easter Road beyond this summer or take up the option of moving anywhere he likes under freedom of contract.
“Ultimately it’s down to the individual, but harking back to my experience, I was just desperate to try something different,” Robertson said. “I’d played all my career in Scotland and I wanted to experience playing in England and test myself at a different level. I made the wrong decision with the club I went to – I had a couple of other offers and, with hindsight, I probably should have gone to a different club. The way it worked out, I ended up joining a club where I was never really going to play. It was the wrong decision to pick Blackpool, but I still think it was the right decision to go and try playing in England.
“I know Dylan has already spent time in England (on loan at Coventry City from Celtic in 2014) so he’ll have had a taste of it. I’ve not spoken to him for a while so I don’t know his intentions, but he’s someone I feel could go and play in various leagues across the world. People just assume if you’re going to be leaving Scotland then you’re going to England, but look at (former Hibs and Celtic player) Liam Henderson, for example. He’s gone to Italy and seems to be doing quite well, and I think Dylan would be perfectly capable of going abroad to play if he wanted to.”
Having turned 25 in January and approaching the end of a season in which he has established himself as one of the standout players in the country, Robertson believes McGeouch is at a good stage in his career to try something different, if he is that way inclined. “I had just turned 27 when I left Scotland to go to England, and that was probably a bit too late if you’re comparing it against other players who have gone down the road,” said Robertson. “I just found I got to an age where I wanted to try new things. Dylan’s certainly proved himself at Scottish Premiership level so ultimately it’s down to him and whether he has the personal ambition to go and play at a higher level. It’d be good to see him do that – I’d certainly be confident that he’d cope at a higher level than the Scottish Premiership.”
After Robertson’s move to Blackpool turned sour, he returned to Scotland just six months later, to join Hibs in January 2013. Having experienced two and a half years at Easter Road, he knows how difficult it would be to choose to leave the club. Robertson only left in summer 2015 after his contract wasn’t renewed by Alan Stubbs but he remains well aware of the positive vibe around the club at present. Hibs have already offered McGeouch an improved new deal, with manager Neil Lennon conceding recently that the 2016 Scottish Cup winning hero’s future is to be resolved.
“There’s obviously still a good chance he could sign a contract at Hibs,” said Robertson. “I know how highly he’s thought of among his team-mates, the fans and the coaching staff. I left Hibs under different circumstances but it was a wrench for me to leave. I absolutely loved it at Hibs, especially my last season. Everything was on the up at that point after the negativity of relegation. Everything was heading in the right direction so I was devastated to leave. Dylan has had four years at Hibs, which is a long time to be at one club in the modern game, so it will be a tie to him. With the performances he’s putting in, the fans would be devastated if he was to go but ultimately Dylan has to do what he thinks is best for his career.
“There’s also finance to consider. There’s only so much money in the Scottish Premiership, outwith Celtic. With the level of player he is and the fact he’s just been called into the Scotland squad, I’m sure he could go elsewhere and earn more money. Money’s not always the main factor though. Look at Paul Hanlon. He’s probably got plenty admirers as well but he’s just signed a new long-term contract at Hibs. That probably suits him having just got married and had a child, but Dylan will have his own circumstances. It is a job so you have to try and earn a living from it, but there’s other stuff to consider. Finance won’t be the most important thing for Dylan.”
Robertson played with McGeouch for a season in a midfield which helped Hibs set the tone for their upwards post-relegation surge with a strong finish to the 2014/15 campaign in the Championship. He is pleased to see his old colleague replicating that superb form in the top flight.
“I couldn’t speak highly enough of Dylan when we were team-mates three years ago,” said Robertson. “He was a mature player even back then in terms of his composure on the ball but he’s a few years older and wiser now and he’s benefited from playing a lot more first-team football in the last few years. He was playing in the Championship when I was playing with him and he’s now proved he can do it regularly in the Premiership against teams like Aberdeen, Hearts, Celtic and Rangers. He’s kept his standards high.”
Although McGeouch is now in a strong position with regard to the options he will have available this summer, Robertson – stung by his experience at Blackpool – cautioned that his old colleague must take care to ensure he doesn’t opt for a club that will halt his current momentum. “Dylan’s stock’s that high in Scotland that he could probably go away and if it didn’t work out come back and get a good club in Scotland,” said Robertson. “But I’m sure wherever Dylan goes, he won’t have to worry about things not working out. He’s playing at a level where he could go, for example, to the English Championship and hold his own. I’ve seen players with less technical ability go down to England and do very well. It would obviously depend on him going to the right club and playing under the right manager. If he gets the right club and a manager that wants to play football and pass through midfield, then I’m sure Dylan would be a standout in the English Championship.
“The problem is that so many clubs in England are turning managers over so quickly. I was at Blackpool for six months and I had three different managers in that time. That was obviously quite extreme but football in England is more cut-throat than in Scotland. Looking back on my experience, it would have been a lot better for me to go to a club who had a stable manager, a long-term plan and a style they wanted to play rather than going to a club turning over the manager every few months. If he does decide to go, it would help him if he’s able to pick the right club.”