Hibs new boys can bond on long bus trips - not boozy nights out
There was a time when any football manager looking to integrate seven mid-season signings into a squad could count on his captain and a few senior pros to apply the tried-and-tested philosophy summed up by the saying: “The team that drinks together wins together.” And there wouldn’t have been an isotonic sports beverage in sight.
In this more enlightened age, when even the greenest apprentice understands the negative effects of alcohol on an athlete’s body, gaffers have to work a little harder. Because teams don’t just gel. It requires effort.
Nick Montgomery, asked about plans to integrate his own Magnificent Seven acquired during the January window, grinned as he admitted: “Well, you can’t do a night out like you used to! Going to Dubai, we went with half a team - ten or twelve first-team players and a lot of young players.
“The window only shut on Thursday night, but we’ve had a couple of meetings where I’ve expressed what I expect, and we’ve talked about the first half of the season - and the only way now is to get them on the training ground.
“We see them sitting having lunch together. We try to create a culture where everyone has breakfast and lunch together. And we’ve got a couple of away trips coming up to Inverness and Aberdeen so a lot of time sat on the bus where the boys can get to know each other.”
Defenders Owen Bevan and Nectar Triantis, midfielders Luke Amos and Nathan Moriah-Walsh, plus attackers Emiliano Marcondes, Myziane Maolida and Eliezer Mayenda were all acquired by Hibs during a busy window. It’s been a complete rebuilding job, by any standards.
Montgomery, grateful that he was allowed a free hand in a tricky market, said: “We’ve moved seven players out and brought seven in, so we worked within the budget, but I needed the support of the club and the Gordon family to allow me to do that business. I felt getting to January that we really did need to freshen the squad up.
“Everybody who went out, whether it was loan or permanent, went on good terms, and everybody who’s come in has come in for the right reasons - to help Hibs, to wear the shirt with pride, and have the opportunity of playing for a big club in big games. It’s given me competition for places and real squad depth which I haven’t really had all season due to a lot of injuries, then the boys going on international duty. So I’m really confident that once these boys gel - and they’ve gelled well so far in the last couple of days - we can really give a good account of ourselves.”
Monty, who replaced Lee Johnson in September, with Hibs still pointless after three rounds of Scottish Premiership fixtures, admitted: “When you inherit a team and you come in after pre-season, it’s not easy. I felt the boys gave me everything, but then we had the opportunity to bring in the quality players I feel I have.
“I think it has been good business by the club, and it also meant some players who weren’t really playing here could get out and get game time as well. I see that as a real benefit because they either play their way back into the team for next season, or they put themselves in the shop window and I think that’s the beauty of the loan system.”
Club captain Paul Hanlon is ill again, meaning Triantis is certain to start against St Mirren at Easter Road this afternoon. Montgomery also made it clear that the budget to land the Sunderland defender – who won an A-League title under his guidance at Central Coast – was only made available by Christian Doidge moving back to Forest Green Rovers.
“It was one I didn’t need to think twice about,” he insisted, adding: “Because he’s a very good young player. The opportunity to get him into the squad this weekend was good timing.
“He’s a real competitor. He might be 20 years old, like Will Fish, but they’ve had experience. I don’t believe age is anything to do with why you pick a team.
“Young players are all over the world now, playing Champions League football at 16 and 17 years old. So when you look at that, a young player to me is Rory Whittaker, who is 16.
“But, at 20 years old, Will Fish has played for Man United and Nectar has already won a championship in Australia. So they have those experiences in how to win games of football.
“This is a physical league, so you have to be able to compete. And nobody could question either of them when it comes to competing.”
Mayenda looks like another reclamation project by Montgomery, with the French teenager – who made his first-team debut for Sochaux aged just 16 – having struggled through his first half-season in British football. A temporary loan offers the 18-year-old, without a goal for Sunderland this season, a chance to rediscover his touch.
“If you are going to rely on an 18-year-old to score you goals every week, that’s a massive ask,” said Montgomery. “The opportunity for him to come here, with Harry McKirdy going out the other way, he gives us options on both flanks and as a striker.
“What we haven’t had is any competition for places in that front four. I’ve had to ask a lot of Dylan Vente, Martin Boyle, Elie Youan and Jair Tavares. I’ve asked it of them every week because there wasn’t anyone there to provide competition. We’ve got a lot of games coming up. I’ve no doubt that Eliezer can give us a real threat. He’s quick, he’s athletic – and the kid is hungry to come and get minutes, help the team here.
“I’m really looking forward to working with him and seeing him adapt. What we need, with a lot of games coming up, is the ability to rotate players – and change players within the game. That impact off the bench is important in modern-day football. If you have eight or nine subs who can come off and make an impact, you can go into games and, for example, press teams higher – because you have the legs to come off the bench and continue to do that.”