Hibs' director of football search: The wait, the details of the job and the leading candidates

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Time is now very much of the essence when it comes to Hibs and their search for a director of football.

It was January 10 when they first announced their intention to fill a position between board and head coach which had basically sat empty since the departure of Graeme Mathie as sporting director in September 2021. We’re now almost four months down the line and nobody is yet in the role.

The devastating death of former chairman Ron Gordon will have played a significant factor in the delay. The Hibs boardroom went through a necessary reshuffle, while discussions were made behind the scenes over responsibility of decisions going forward, so naturally the hunt went on the back burner. However, while it may excuse the wait (or at least a portion of it) it doesn’t change the fact that this is the time of year where football clubs are already deep into their planning for the following season and the kind of players they wish to recruit. The Scottish Premiership season ends on May 27. There are contracts for current players to sort out, potential free-agent targets to secure before other clubs steal in with an offer, and transfer targets to identify.

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The “director of football” or “sporting director” model has often worked in many different ways across leagues and countries throughout the years. Some are very hands on and sign many players themselves. Many are merely stewards who oversee the various departments. (Joe Savage as sporting director at Hearts, for example, also looks after the women’s team.)

Hibs started their director of football search in January and are yet to make a hire. Picture: SNSHibs started their director of football search in January and are yet to make a hire. Picture: SNS
Hibs started their director of football search in January and are yet to make a hire. Picture: SNS

It’s likely the latter we’ll see at Easter Road. It’s more palatable for the British audience for their manager in the dugout to be the one who has final say on signings, and that’s typically how it’s worked. You’ll get a director of football occasionally insisting on a signing or bringing in a few themselves, particularly younger players built around a long-term vision for the club. But overall the job revolves around putting together and managing an efficient structure so that when a head coach says he wants a new right-back with emphasis on attacking, he can be presented with a few options from which to pick and therefore spend more time worrying about his current squad. The same goes for contract negotiations.

It’s not going to be a case that Hibs won’t sign any new players or dish out contract extensions while they still wait on a director of football coming in, but there’s still a lot that will need to be done for the new structure to be fully functioning in time for summer’s ‘silly season’ starting. The new man will have to attend several meetings with both his bosses and manager Lee Johnson in order to work out a coherent and agreeable strategy, while it’s also possible he’ll want to restructure the recruitment team to his own liking. And that’s before getting down to business. It’s a lot to get through while you’re already behind on the clock.

The good news is that a new arrival is seemingly imminent. According to reports in the Scottish Sun, there are five candidates who have met with club hierarchy and an announcement could be made in the coming days. Of the five, only three identities are known. Those are former Hibs striker Mixu Paatelainen, ex-Reading and Leeds United boss Brian McDermott, and long-serving football agent Raymond Sparkes. There’s a certain amount of intrigue and trepidation around each of the trio.

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Paatelainen hasn’t been able to stick anywhere in football management for long since leaving the Finnish national team job in 2015. His last gig in Scotland was manager of Dundee United and it was a disaster, to say the least. Tasked with rescuing the situation after a dreadful start to the 2015/16 campaign under Jackie McNamara, the club were relegated from the top flight and his transfer policy – signing Gavin Gunning, Guy Demel, Florent Sinama Pongolle, Eiji Kawashima, Riku Riski and Edward Ofere (apologies to any United fans reading) – left a lot to be desired. In his defence, he was scrambling around trying to save a doomed vessel. And while those names would make any Tannadice enthusiast shudder, it does suggest a ranging network of contacts and the ability to bring in some big names.

Mixu Paatelainen during his spell as manager of Dundee United in 2016. Picture: SNSMixu Paatelainen during his spell as manager of Dundee United in 2016. Picture: SNS
Mixu Paatelainen during his spell as manager of Dundee United in 2016. Picture: SNS

Speaking of a bloated contacts book, Sparkes would bring with him a wealth of experience dealing in transfers and scouting as one of the most experienced agents in British football. Clubs are generally reticent to put former agents into such positions, something Sparkes argued against himself in an interview with The Celtic Way last year, so that will likely hamper his chances at getting the job. He does represent an interesting proposition, though. Owners and agents as unlikely bedfellows is something that has been on the rise in American sports, so Hibs could find themselves ahead of the curve if they go down that route.

Then there’s McDermott. He’s mostly known for his time as a football manager, particularly with Reading and Leeds United, which can provoke a certain amount of suspicion when they want to take on these kind of long-term-strategy roles. You don’t want someone just getting their name in the headlines so they can jump ship the next time an appealing club wants a new coach. But McDermott actually has lots of experience working behind the scenes, particularly at Arsenal where he was an international scout for many years. His knowledge of the Scottish game, however, may still be lacking somewhat.

Hibs have to get this decision right as they seek sustained success on the pitch to match the ambitions of the Gordon family. But they also have to give the new man the best possible chance to succeed, and that includes getting him in position as soon as they possibly can.

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