Hibs look to create new model for success with hiring of academy director Steve Kean

Although it didn’t feel like it was in Hibs’ initial plans to announce the appoint of Steve Kean as the new academy director while the country was still joyously rocking from the tremendous 2-0 victory over Denmark at Hampden Park the previous night, the national team bucking the trend of two decades of frustration slotted perfectly beside the message the club were trying to put forward with this appointment.

By Craig Fowler
Tuesday, 16th November 2021, 10:30 pm
Updated Wednesday, 17th November 2021, 10:27 am

Within Easter Road, chief executive Ben Kensell and manager Jack Ross sat alongside the new recruit, whose impending arrival had been reported the previous evening, and each member of the recently-formed trio stressed the need for an overhaul in the development of younger players not only to improve the fortunes of the Easter Road club but the game in Scotland as a whole.

Currently in the SPFL, young players have to make the leap from under-18s football right to the first team. There used to be a reserve league, which followed on from the development league, but this has been inactive from the beginning of the pandemic, while none of Celtic, Rangers or Hibs submitted squads during its final season.

Hibs, who are one of five clubs behind an independent review into the Scottish game, are now planning to create their own development side as they aim to offer great opportunity for youngsters to gain the necessary experience in order to make the leap.

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Steve Kean says he will be making a few changes to the player pathway system after being appointed academy director. Picture: Hibernian FC

"Instantly, what we need to do is build a pathway in the academy from under-10s to under-18s and then build that bridge between the development team and the structure around the games programme, which allows Jack to view these players in a competitive environment to see if they are good enough for the Hibs first team,” said Kensell.

"At the moment there is a gap there. And that is not just a problem at Hibs but the whole Scottish game. It is something we are discussing in some detail. Is it a reserve league? Is it a Lowland League? Is it a development pathway that is actually bringing through good, young talent at clubs? I genuinely believe that we have the right manager in Jack, who will allow young players to come through, but we also need some help in that area and that is where Steve will come into it.

“I think it is really important for the game in Scotland and the national game moving on from last night, that we continue to see good young players come through and represent their country and club. If we don’t provide the tools to do that we are doing something wrong. I think for the future of the game, these appointments are key and they shouldn’t be downplayed in any way shape or form.”

Kean added: "The current system means that inside every club the jump is too big from academy football up. That is what we want to address with the construction of a whole new team – a development team – and we will try to go down south and play competitive games against under-23 teams in England.

Steve Kean has been hired by Hibs to be the club's new academy director, where he'll work alongside manager Jack Ross and chief executive Ben Kensell. Picture: Getty

“Down there, that set up is already in place and I think having that real test, and seeing if they are close, is really important.

"We're starting to see a number of youngsters coming through into the national team. We're starting to see a lot of our players playing at the big clubs in England, which used to be a thing of the past and that's starting to bear fruit.

“For us a club, to continue to bring through high quality players, that can only bring us to the forefront of youth development and make sure Scotland continues to develop these players. Sometimes they're sold to the big clubs and we can only view that as success.”

The 54-year-old former Blackburn Rovers manager walks into Easter Road with a wealth of experience from across the globe, having taken roles in Europe, Asia and Australia since leaving Ewood Park in 2012.

There is, however, one institution which impressed him more than the rest and provided him with ideas which he’d like to see implemented at Hibs.

“I was fortunate enough to spend time in Spain with Real Sociedad. The amount of young players they bring through in that region of Spain, with themselves and Athletic Bilbao, is phenomenal,” he said.

“I looked deep into what they were doing, especially in their own community. I looked at how they really tried to manage their tactical awareness, which I thought was really interesting.

“We always hear about technical repetition but they were very big on dovetailing that with the tactical work. It was something very different, which I was lucky enough to see.”

At the end of the day, while producing the next Scotland hero would be a nice achievement, ultimately the bottom line is about improving the fortunes of Hibs and giving supporters something to cheer about on a consistent basis in the seasons to come.

The impact of Covid has meant there is a “black hole” in terms of the youth conveyer belt at the club and Ross, who played a major role in Kean taking the job, now has help in trying to fill it.

"At present in the first-team we've got the likes of Daniel MacKay, who we believe in the fullness of time will develop and become a really strong asset for the club, but you can't say they'll always make that immediate instant impact, so we need to make a home for them as well,” said the manager.

"The biggest synergy you want is from under-18s to development team to first-team, where if we're pressing the outside then they do that as well, so you can get the understanding for youngsters coming into the first-team group. Those are the parts where I think we have a similar outlook and where we need to try and get it right over the coming months and seasons.”

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