Hibs development squad: Who is likely to play, what is its purpose, which teams are they playing?

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When Hibs announced their decision to recall winger Emmanuel Johnson from his loan spell at Charleston Battery in America’s USL Championship, there was a bit of confusion from some sections of the fanbase.

Who was this player, where had he come from, and why was it being highlighted that he was returning to the Easter Road club’s development squad?

Have Hibs had a development squad before?

Yes. There was a development league which served as the top level of youth football in the country, from 1998 until 2018, in various guises. Hibs most recently ran a team in the SPFL Reserve League but withdrew along with Aberdeen, Celtic, Rangers, and St Johnstone after just one season as the five clubs opted to organise their own games programmes.

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Was that the under-18s?

Initially the development league was an under-18 league, then the age limit was upped to under-19, and then under-20. But the Hibs Under-18s who won the league last season, and the development squad that will be revived from next season are two very different things.

So the Hibs development squad is… a reserve team?

Yes and no. The aim of the development team is to provide a bridge between youth football and the first team, as well as providing more minutes for bench players.

Joao Balde, Tom Carter, and Emmanuel Johnson will be among those involved with the development squad next seasonJoao Balde, Tom Carter, and Emmanuel Johnson will be among those involved with the development squad next season
Joao Balde, Tom Carter, and Emmanuel Johnson will be among those involved with the development squad next season

Hibs are keen to ensure that there is a clear pathway from the club’s Academy to first-team football, to heighten their chances of keeping hold of the club’s brightest prospects and attract promising youngsters from elsewhere.

However, the development squad won’t compete in a league system.

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Who are they going to play then?

While there will presumably be more fixtures scheduled, Hibs will face English sides Blackburn Rovers, Brentford, Huddersfield, Middlesbrough, and Queens Park Rangers in a friendly competition dubbed the ‘1875 Invitational’. Clubs will play each other home and away, and the English sides are likely to field under-23 teams, allowing Hibs to test themselves against different opposition.

Academy chief Steve Kean said: “Sometimes when we play games here, everybody knows everybody else; the players know the players in the other team.

"If we can play games against under-23 sides [from England] then that would be a big step to pushing our youngsters and making it a much more dynamic season for our development team. It would really push our players in a different direction.”

Who’s going to be in the team?

A lot of last season’s under-18 squad will be involved, as will those who have been signed specifically for the development squad – midfielder João Baldé, goalkeeper Tom Carter, winger Emmanuel Johnson, and centre-back Kyle McClelland to name but a few.

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There will also be first-team fringe players turning out as well. A good indicator would be the teams that faced Huddersfield in games last season – a mixture of under-18s, players around the 19/20/21 age, and a few players needing extra minutes.

None of the seven first-team signings confirmed by Hibs so far have been brought in for the development squad.

What are the main benefits?

There are several plus points – Academy players stand a greater chance of first-team involvement; players will be capable of stepping up in times of injury; fringe players get more minutes, and talented youngsters from other clubs could be tempted to join Hibs if they can see a clear pathway to regular first-team football.

It should also increase the chance of more Hibs Academy players graduating to the first team – and limiting the amount of work needed during transfer windows.

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