Hibs have no time to waste - the FIVE main priorities for incoming boss

Gone, going, staying, staying, gone ... Hibs will drastically reduce squad. Gone, going, staying, staying, gone ... Hibs will drastically reduce squad.
Gone, going, staying, staying, gone ... Hibs will drastically reduce squad. | SNS Group
Easter Road leadership recognise value of early appointment

Not long now? All indications are that Hibs won’t be dawdling in their appointment of a new head coach. Nor should they. Because they are a club urgently in need of someone able to pick up where Nick Montgomery was cut off – by carrying out a complete overhaul of a squad in disarray.

A long list of emergency repairs and total refurbishment lies in wait for the lucky man who succeeds Monty. And it probably starts by addressing the failings that have left Hibs with a huge collection of footballers, yet simultaneously find themselves needing to fill massive gaps in the first team.

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The sustained and persistent absence of a long-term strategy means the incoming boss could easily be overwhelmed by the sheer scale of the challenge about to be handed to The Chosen One by new sporting director Malky Mackay. Which is just one of the reasons why David Gray, not only in his fourth stint as interim manager but about to celebrate his 10th anniversary as a Hibs employee, is considered such a safe bet by many at Easter Road; he at least won’t be shocked by the mess in need of clearing up.

Regardless of whether the job is entrusted to Gray or claimed by a rival candidate, there will be an urgency about those first few days at the helm. And, even if it might take until the closing minutes of the summer transfer window to find that last piece of the puzzle, the priorities from Day One should be clear. Here are the five first steps to be taken by the incoming manager:

Slash and burn

Reducing the squad to a more manageable level is an absolute must. True, there’s virtually a starting XI of guys already away, with loan agreements finishing and contracts expired. That has already helped to cut the group, which stood at 44 players at season’s end, to something less ridiculous. On paper, at least.

Even if won’t be easy, however, a large number of non-contributing players still under contract will have to be shifted on. Before you even get to the 50-50 calls, or the talents who might attract a transfer offer too good to refuse, there is deadwood to be cleared.

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Harbottle - under contract until 2026.Harbottle - under contract until 2026.
Harbottle - under contract until 2026. | SNS Group

Players like Riley Harbottle, Allan Delferriere, Nohan Kenneh, maybe even Harry McKirdy … few in the football department at East Mains see them as answers to some of the more difficult questions guaranteed to be asked of Hibs in the season ahead. And, while it looked for a long time like Ewan Henderson would be parlaying his loan spell in Belgium into something more permanent, KV Oostende’s ability to trigger the right-to-buy clause in the loan agreement is likely to be somewhat hindered by the club going bust. Not ideal, is it?

Fixed-term football contracts can’t simply be torn up or ignored. There are players on first-team wages who will contribute ZERO to the club in the season(s) ahead. Finding someone to take a proportion of those salaries off the books is clearly a priority. But not the only one.

Two goalkeepers, please

The departure of David Marshall and the performances of Jojo Wollacott represent a double headache for the new gaffer. Hibs can’t kick off their new campaign without recruiting a No.1 capable of inspiring confidence and, when required, keeping his team in tight games.

Whether or not the new goalie has to possess all the sweeper-keeper qualities required in the modern game may be tempered, of course, by the identity and philosophy of the new gaffer. But any coach will look for someone who brings a degree of calmness to the last line of defence. And a back-up capable of pushing the first choice keeper hard in training.

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Fill the defensive gaps

As things stand, the only senior central defenders under contract to Hibernian FC are Rocky Bushiri and the unwanted Harbottle. Leaving aside all debates about the wisdom of allowing club captain Paul Hanlon to depart, there’s a numerical problem to be solved here.

Montgomery was keen to re-open his pursuit of Owen Bevan, whose injury issues eventually put paid to a January loan move. The tie-in with Bournemouth should help if the new boss wants to follow up on the 20-year-old. But at least one more centre-half will be required, as the bare minimum.

Find another Myziane Maolida

No, that’s probably not possible. Players of Maolida’s quality tend not to be available to clubs like Hibs.

Maolida’s scoring streak repaid Montgomery’s faithMaolida’s scoring streak repaid Montgomery’s faith
Maolida’s scoring streak repaid Montgomery’s faith | Getty Images

Without getting all Moneyball about everything, they need to find two or three players who can replace the threat of an attacker whose half-season loan spell brought quality, threat and desire to the final third. With 11 goals from 17 starts, the Comoros international more than repaid his side of the bargain, as Hibs put the former 10 million Euro man in the shop window.

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They’ll be in the market for another striker, anyway, to support Dylan Vente now that Adam Le Fondre is away. And maybe another winger? That could depend on whether all the current wide men – Martin Boyle, Elie Youan and Jair Tavares – remain on the wage bill …

Work it out

Not getting a pre-season with his team left Nick Mongomery constantly playing catch-up. Without those weeks on the training ground, working on the big ideas and small details of a game plan, while also building the shared language and understanding crucial to conveying often complex messages, any head coach is operating with one hand tied behind his back. While his players run around with blinkers on.

If, just for instance, Gray were to be confirmed in the role next week, he’d immediately put a plan in place. Training blocks ready to go when the players – barring those getting a little extended leave because of international duty – return to East Mains in late June. Every fitness session, every bit of possession work or passing drill, would be designed to emphasise and underpin the patterns and problem solving central to the new gaffer’s philosophy.

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As a pure coaching challenge, building a more durable team from the available odds and ends, supplemented by a handful of new arrivals, is daunting enough. And that’s without factoring in the couple of hundred other problems – injury, illness, late bids for certain starters and too-good-to-be-true leads on the Next Big Thing in Faroese holding midfielders – designed to divert the new man from his main focus. The new season will be upon us before we can say “Oh, that was unlucky …” about Scotland’s exit from the Euros. From a Hibs perspective, there really isn’t much time to lose.