Hibs' Steven Whittaker opens up on new coaching role and thoughts on retirement
Easter Road stalwart enjoying view from stand but still has something to give on pitch
He may have been sitting at the back of the Easter Road’s West Stand, but Steven Whittaker was very much at the heart of the action as Hibs handed out a 3-0 demolition of Aberdeen last weekend.
While not part of Jack Ross’ squad, the veteran defender was nevertheless part of the head coach’s team, mic’d up and in constant touch with the home dugout to offer his thoughts on what he was seeing from his vantage point.
Ross has quickly turned to 35-year-old Whittaker – the most experienced player in his squad – to play that role when not stripped for action on match days. As someone currently studying for his coaching A licence, it was an offer the former Scotland player was happy to accept.
Whittaker said: “As soon as Jack came in he threw that one at me. It wasn’t something I was looking for, but I was happy to help.
“It’s something Jack has done in the past and he was keen for me to do it. It’s a little bit strange, a bit different from being on the bench, a different viewpoint looking at it from the top of the stand.”
Along with the club’s video analysis team and physio, Whittaker can speak directly to first-team coach Grant Murray and hear what others are saying but, he insisted, there’s no time for any idle chat.
He said: “It’s not anything mind-blowing. It might be looking at the opposition’s formation early doors, trying to work out if their gameplan is what we have seen in the videos or if it is a bit different.
“If I see anything differently from high up, I can let Grant know. It’s only my opinion and obviously the manager has the final say, that’s what he is there for.
“If I’m not involved playing-wise, it gives me a purpose on a Saturday. It concentrates the mind a bit more than if you are just watching as a spectator – but I was still jumping about when Martin Boyle scored the opener against Aberdeen.”
Whittaker had an earlier taste of his role when he sat with Paul Heckingbottom in the stand as the former head coach served a touchline ban and, to his surprise, found himself part of the interim management team following the Yorkshireman’s sacking.
“I was doing a little bit of coaching with the under-18s and Heckingbottom asked me to come up and sit with him and talk over the game,” explained Whittaker. “Again, it was a new experience, something different and hopefully all these little things will help in future.
“The week between Paul leaving and Jack coming in, Graeme Mathie [Hibs’ new sporting director] spoke to me and asked me to work with Eddie May, Grant and Alan Combe. I think as one of the more senior players in the changing room, he wanted a voice from the boys, if you like, in the staff meetings.
“It wasn’t something I was expecting, but it was interesting and I think it all worked out fairly well with that 4-1 win [against St Johnstone on November 9].”
As he enters the latter stages of a trophy-laden career – a League Cup winners medal with Hibs before enjoying three Premier League titles, two Scottish Cup triumphs and three more League Cup victories with Rangers on top of 31 Scotland caps – it is only natural that Whittaker’s mind is turning to what next, but he’s resisting hanging up his boots for now.
He said: “I get my A licence assessment in the summer, but I am also doing an applied management course at Napier University along with David Gray and Darren McGregor.
“I’ve also played under quite a few managers and learned everyone is different. There’s no right or wrong way, getting the result on a Saturday is the main thing.
“Older players, team-mates who have retired, have told me nothing beats playing, but you have to prepare yourself the best you can for the future. I am out of contract in the summer, but I’ll just be turning 36 so we will wait and see what happens.
“I’m not looking so far ahead at the moment as to whether I want to keep playing or pursue other options.”
Whittaker has made it clear to Ross he’s still available for selection, a point underlined by the fact he was an unused substitute in Dingwall last midweek as Hibs lost 2-1 to Ross County.
He said: “I’d travelled as the 19th man, but Joe Newell was feeling his calf and it got worse when we got to the hotel. I was there to do the mic, but ended up on the bench and was happy to do that.
“I’m still training every day, doing my best and still there to be selected. I’m probably limited in the positions I can play now and we do have a good squad, so it’s been hard to get game-time under the last manager and this one.
“I still feel I have something to give, but I am weighing up my options – it might be coaching. It’s hard to predict, but I’ll be comfortable with the road I choose to go down.”