Hibs map out best route to first team for young stars
Following on from the recent argument over Celtic and Rangers colt teams joining the Lowland League, Hibs’ sporting director Graeme Mathie says the problem with identifying the best way forward in the development of players is the fact there is no one-size-fits-all solution.
Revealing that the model might have been beneficial to the Easter Road club this season, he maintains that in previous years, with a different group of players, there were better alternatives and conceded that would, undoubtedly, be the case again.
“The challenge with young players is to try to get them into the right environment, at the right time, all the time.”
Last season, while Josh Doig was forcing his way into the first team, those still on the periphery undertook loan spells, making the most of strategic partnerships, which the club intend to build on.
Several players headed out to Championship and lower league sides, while others dipped their toe in at Lowland League level.
“These strategic partnerships have been great,” said Mathie. “Jack Brydon absolutely benefited from being at Civil Service Strollers for six months, playing regularly as a 17 year-old centre-back but then he got 10 games with Stenhousemuir, moving into League 2, which for him, at his age, was brilliant.”
The past year has been a difficult one when it came to striking the right balance as league upheaval and the curtailment of the Lowland League left a number of players caught in no-mans land due to the pandemic and SPFL intransigence.
“The reason we didn’t introduce another couple of young players into the matchday squad at the tail end of last season was that those who had gone out to Lowland League sides in January, weren’t allowed to be part of the group,” revealed the head of Hibs’ football department.
“It is an SPFL rule that if you weren’t registered with a club by 31st March then you couldn’t play for them. We had a bit of a disagreement with them over that. I asked if they could make a special case because my view was that they didn’t have a league to play in. Essentially, it meant that every young player who was out on loan at clubs in the Lowland League which had been suspended, weren’t allowed to come back and be involved in our first team matchday squads.”
With hindsight, given the way it panned out, he says it may have been better not to send so many youngsters out on loan.
“But you don’t want to have these guys just training and not getting any significant match time. The experiences the likes of Jack got playing against men absolutely helped him to kick on. So it is always about getting that balance right for individual players.
“There have been times when we discussed a colts team but loans are good because they have to go and adapt to a different environment. It toughens them up if they have to handle a different football culture than they’ve been used to, to step out their comfort zone, into another changing room, and have to interact with new people, at a new club. The benefits of that are all positive.”