Hibs review provides chance to learn from Black Knight saviours

Manager Nick Montgomery and director of football Brian McDermott at Hibernian Training Centre.Manager Nick Montgomery and director of football Brian McDermott at Hibernian Training Centre.
Manager Nick Montgomery and director of football Brian McDermott at Hibernian Training Centre. | SNS Group
Football focus - areas of interest as board assess entire department

Bill Foley’s Black Knights to the rescue. It’s a narrative that’s been out there from the very moment we reported on his intent to establish Hibs as the undisputed third force in Scottish football. For six months now, there’s been this promise of great things to come.

And, sure, the £6 million up front was undoubtedly a welcome element of the billionaire Bournemouth owner’s buy-in. But the real value of the deal arguably lies in the experience and expertise Foley – and his associates – will bring to the root-and-branch review of football operations announced by the Hibs board last night.

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Foley’s sporting portfolio includes stakes in four different football clubs - and one billion-dollar (US) ice hockey franchise. If he wants his trusted lieutenants to peek behind every door and look under every rock out at East Mains, nobody at Hibs is going to complain. And there is zero chance of the evaluation ending with a report headlined: “Everything’s grand. No notes.”

Let’s take a look, then, at the areas most likely to come under scrutiny by a board-instigated assessment of the most important department in any club:

Structure

This is where Hibs can probably learn most from best practice not just at Bournemouth and FC Lorient, but the Stanley Cup-winning Golden Knights – still the crown jewel in Foley’s portfolio. In order to achieve excellence, you need a clear and effective model of how things SHOULD work.

While it was once considered an American foible, football has long embraced the concept of a “front office” distinct from the coaching staff. Hibs are already there, in many ways, employing a director of football, operations manager, academy director etc.

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Bournemouth have done this particularly well, putting the right people into strategic positions to get the best out of them. Which is why Liverpool just raided them for their new sporting director, Richard Hughes.

Squad management

Interestingly, the Harvard Business Review recently reported that Artificial Intelligence could be used to guide sporting organisations on everything from the length of contract offered to a veteran player, based on predicted games and potential injuries, to the likely return on investment from an academy prospect. All very interesting/terrifying.

It hardly takes a supercomputer to recognise that Hibs, on their fifth manager since Neil Lennon’s departure just over five years ago, have a squad in need of an overhaul. Some of that will happen naturally, as loan deals expire, out-of-contract players move on, and guys out on loan return. But a more strategic approach is required. Which brings us to …

Recruitment

Well, obviously. The inevitable knock-on effect of so many managerial changes has been a slightly confused approach to talent acquisition. Still, football is a weird business, full of opportunities brilliantly disguised as challenges. And great signings can just as easily come from a casual conversation with a contact as a deep dive into some untapped market.

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Foley has spoken openly about providing some “help” to Hibs in the transfer market. And Bournemouth are clearly keen on players of interest – either already on their books or likely to sign once they get the correct work permit – heading north to gain experience, even if the Edinburgh club will retain final say on any signings.

Academy

The people who run the talent development programme out at East Mains definitely get it. They know their job isn’t just about getting players into the first team. It’s about producing players good enough to transform that first team. They’re not going to turn their nose up at any offer of help.

Bricks, mortar, trees and grass

There’s been plenty of talk about building some sort of indoor facility out at the Hibernian Training Centre, situated in possibly the most exposed corner of East Lothian. That feels like the minimum requirement for a team with ambitions to compete at the business end of the Scottish Premiership table. They might also want to plant some taller trees – as a windbreak – next to their main outdoor training pitch, given the force and frequency of blowy days at East Mains.

Summary

Foley had to jump through several SFA hoops to get his hands on a 25 per cent stake in Hibs. He and long-time lieutenant Ryan Caswell – who led the acquisition of Bournemouth – now sit on the board. Whether or not you interpret this first step as the Black Knights riding to the rescue, they will definitely have ideas and opinions worthy of consideration.

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