Hibs sailing close to 'banter years' territory - club has to find 'build back better' approach

It’s been quite a week for Hibs, and it’s only Wednesday.

Wednesday, 4th May 2022, 7:00 am
Updated Wednesday, 4th May 2022, 12:46 pm

On Monday morning – during the club’s open training session at Easter Road no less – it was announced that goalkeeping coach Jon Busch had left the club. By Monday afternoon there were whispers that key sponsorship partner SportemonGo had gone belly up and by nightfall, Chris Mueller’s projected return to MLS became public.

Tuesday brought with it confirmation that SportemonGo had indeed SportemonGone, and that Roy Keane was not a candidate for the managerial vacancy.

So the club is still working on a new boss, meandering to the end of the Scottish Premiership season with three dead-rubbers to come, and has largely had a campaign to forget.

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We’re a long way from cracked-badge-on-front-of-the-newspaper territory but things feel like they are on a knife-edge. The summer would have been crucial if Hibs were just after a new management team and a few players; now it feels even more important.

Mueller situation

Given that Hibs had tried in vain to secure Mueller’s services last summer, there was a growing level of anticipation when he finally arrived on Scottish shores that he would be the man to kickstart Hibs’ stuttering league campaign. His debut came in a laboured Scottish Cup fourth-round extra-time victory against Cove Rangers. He played 90 minutes of the 120 in attack, and won the man of the match award. Promising signs from his first game in Europe.

Martin Boyle, watching on from the stands that night, departed for Saudi Arabian side Al-Faisaly the following day. But Mueller, ostensibly a right-winger, did not feature in his favoured position in any of his 14 other matches in green and white.

A little blue-sky thinking could work wonders at Hibs - but only if the club gets the important things right first

Was this a signing green-lit by one manager – Jack Ross – for a certain position in his system, scuppered by a new boss – Shaun Maloney – with alternate tactics? Or, more likely, that he simply didn’t settle in a new country and struggled with a lack of gametime?

Mueller’s expected departure will free up a wage for a new signing (but not the mythical £10,000 per week, by the way) and will be filed in the same ‘took a chance, didn’t work out’ folder as Shaun Maloney’s managerial appointment.

‘I think we should see other sponsors’

When rumours of SportemonGo’s demise began to gather pace late on Monday it was not particularly surprising. Many of these cryptocurrency, NFT-laden sponsor deals don’t last for various reasons. Some fans had already voiced their concerns about the arrangement, prompting the club to issue a statement in a bid to reassure supporters that no, they weren’t trying to monetise fan engagement and the Hibs fan token was essentially a form of memorabilia for the 21st century.

The next few weeks will be crucial for CEO Ben Kensell, left, and owner Ron Gordon

Many remained unconvinced. The club should be applauded for exploring different types of link-ups – it’s not so long ago that Hibs lacked a front-of-shirt sponsor, remember – and swerving problematic ones such as vaping partners and ensuring the club’s Community Foundation benefits from deals with betting companies, but NFTs is a far murkier industry.

When considering how many different tie-ups Hibs have announced this season, most of them have been relative hits rather than misses and the important part was that no fans were left out of the pocket and, seemingly, neither was the club.

It will likely serve as a warning for future partnerships. Cryptocurrency arrangements are unlikely to vanish from the football landscape any time soon but there must be better ways of doing it.

Managerial search

We can expect an update soon from the board on the search for a new manager, following last week’s informal talks with potential candidates in London. It won’t be Keane; we know that much, but pressure is mounting on the board to make the right call for the hotseat.

Owner Ron Gordon is due arrive back in the Capital by the weekend which should allow the process to progress to its next stage: a shortlist.

But if it was important to get the right man before this week, it is more imperative than ever that Hibs make the correct call.

The right things have been said in terms of seeking an experienced manager with knowledge of the UK football scene, but the club has to deliver; especially in light of the failed Maloney experiment, the failed Mueller transfer, the failed SportemonGo partnership, and the failed top-six push.

Ross used to talk about fine margins in matches. It could be argued that it was fine margins that kept Hibs out of the upper half of the table, or perhaps there might have been a sliding-doors moment had Boyle stayed, or Kevin Nisbet not sustained a serious injury.

Maloney may have lasted had the Boyle and Nisbet trajectories been different. But that’s football, and clubs have to be prepared for every eventuality.

In this case, Hibs weren’t. In the future, they will have to be.

‘Build back better’

Hibs essentially need a footballing equivalent of the ‘Build Back Better’ vision unveiled by current US President Joe Biden shortly before his inauguration; a six- or seven-point plans they can share with supporters that outlines the club’s goals in terms of next season and the longer-term future.

At the moment, one of the main gripes from fans is an apparent lack of direction at the club, particularly on the park. Off the park, improvements are ongoing at the training centre while the hospitality spaces in the Main Stand at Easter Road are getting a big refurb.

Football fans are fickle, but they are also fiercely proud of their club. They want a team that does the business on the park and for the majority, that’s all they want.

If Hibs get the right managerial appointment and make it a successful summer transfer window, and this is reflected on the park, then most fans will be forgiving of the occasional circus that has been the 2021/22 season.

But they need to start getting things right immediately.