Hibs decision makers must turn spotlight on themselves - or nothing will ever change

L-R back row: Ben Kensell, Brian McDermott and Ian Gordon face questions over chaotic record.L-R back row: Ben Kensell, Brian McDermott and Ian Gordon face questions over chaotic record.
L-R back row: Ben Kensell, Brian McDermott and Ian Gordon face questions over chaotic record.
Board and executives under pressure after years of chaotic instability

Hibs will never be serious players, never fulfil billionaire Bournemouth owner Bill Foley’s stated ambition of establishing themselves as the undisputed third force in Scottish football, without the sort of self-reflection that comes as second nature to any successful coach. Unless the decision makers at Easter Road take ownership of the chaos and crisis that has become normal over recent seasons, changing the manager – or even appointing a new sporting director – will be no more than window dressing.

So, yes, you may believe that Nick Montgomery didn’t prove himself in eight months as head coach. Eight months. Not nearly enough time to implement all the changes demanded of him by a board who have, consistently and without exception, proven themselves incapable of resisting panic under the slightest whisper of pressure.

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Even among those firmly entrenched in the ‘Monty Out’ camp during a season of decline and disaster, however, there’s an acceptance that the former A-League winner can’t possibly shoulder responsibility for everything that went wrong. The ongoing review of all football operations, a process that has already seen Montgomery depart and Malky Mackay arrive, must carry serious weight.

Chief executive Ben Kensell and Ian Gordon flank Nick Montgomery at his unveiling in September.Chief executive Ben Kensell and Ian Gordon flank Nick Montgomery at his unveiling in September.
Chief executive Ben Kensell and Ian Gordon flank Nick Montgomery at his unveiling in September. | SNS Group

From the influence and exact role of Ian Gordon to the performance of chief executive Ben Kensell, with added focus on director of football Brian McDermott’s part in the latest fiasco, there has to be a full assessment on why Hibs continue to get things wrong. That’s what proper football people do. Reflect and learn from every campaign, every game, every training session.

Montgomery will be going through that process himself. Picking over the bones of a brutally short experience and asking himself: “What could I have done differently?”

Having spent a bit of time in his office out at East Mains, enjoying the privilege of regular sit-down interviews before soaking up all sorts of football knowledge when the tape went off, always the best part of those Tuesdays with Monty, the straight-talking Yorkshireman impressed as an honest operator who knew exactly what he wanted to achieve. He also looked and sounded like a man confident in his role. Because he’d repeatedly been reassured that the club would stand by him as he conducted the necessarily extensive surgery on a 44-strong squad of odds and ends inherited from a series of unsuccessful predecessors. Forty-four. Ridiculous.

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Montgomery had already lined up many of his summer signings. And was absolutely confident that, even without landing every single target on the shopping list, Hibs would have been contenders at the right end of the Scottish Premiership next season. He believed a top-four finish should be the minimum target – and felt that to be more than achievable.

But he saw his job as bigger than that. Because he’d been employed specifically to change the culture at a club where softness, weakness and an inability – or unwillingness – to compete in the crucial moments had become endemic.

The board promised him free rein. Have at it, sir. Do whatever it takes to build a team who can dominate possession and play rivals off the park. If that means short-term pain while this transformation takes place, well, that’s a price worth paying.

As the season wore on, of course, concerns about tactics, selection and the alienation of veteran players started to bubble up in the background. Never mind that Montgomery felt everything he was doing was necessary, absolutely essential, to effect substantial and lasting change. Precisely the thing he was employed to do.

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Hibs can’t challenge for third place with Paul Hanlon and Lewis Stevenson – both tremendous characters and fine footballers - as half of their starting back four. Nobody believes that the current squad contains the talent to achieve Foley’s stated aim of guaranteed European football on an annual basis. Everybody wants to get to heaven. But nobody wants to die to get there.

The Black Knight influence on what happens next should, at least, give Hibs fans some hope. They’ve done remarkable things with Bournemouth – a tiny club sitting 11th in the world’s most competitive league, for goodness’ sake – and assembled a global stable of sporting interests.

At every turn, the family of late chairman Ron Gordon, son Ian and widow Kit, have made it clear that they’ve retained total control over all decision making. Their majority shareholding is key, with Foley’s £6 million investment acquiring him just a 25 per cent stake and two seats on the board. It’s a basic maths problem.

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But it’s time for grown-ups to take charge. The people with experience of building teams through stable leadership should be driving what happens next. If the Gordon family honestly and properly reflect on their own record of managerial hiring and firing, they’ll inevitably reach the same conclusion. Or they could just carry on carrying on. It’s worked so well, so far …

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