Matty Kennedy today admitted the chance to work again with Alan Stubbs was a huge factor in his decision to return to Scotland for a loan spell with Hibs.
And the 19-year-old winger revealed he had the chance to come to Easter Road last season, only for Everton to turn it down given the direct style of play employed by ex-Hibs boss Terry Butcher.
However, Toffees manager Roberto Martinez has now sanctioned the former Kilmarnock kid’s six months in Edinburgh rather than farm him out to one of the host of English Championship and League One clubs who were clamouring for his signature.
Having made his debut as a 16-year-old, ironically at Easter Road, Ayrshire-born Kennedy was snapped up by Everton after only 11 appearances and just two starts for Killie at a time when he was being watched by both Chelsea and Arsenal.
Although he’s yet to make his Everton debut Kennedy – who has been on loan at both Tranmere and MK Dons – insisted he’s returned north of the border “ten times” the player he was just two years ago.
He said: “Because of my age I would probably have ended up going lower Championship or higher up in League One, but we decided to come here because he [Martinez] knows what he is getting with Alan.
“He knows how Alan works with the players and he likes the way he has been treating me. He wants me to come to a lower league because he wants me to learn about the game, to see where I can and cannot go rather than being stuck out wide in League One.
“He wants me to go and create chances and be a match-winner.”
There has, of course, been a subtle change in the relationship between the youngster, who has played at every age level for Scotland from Under-15s to Under-21s, and Stubbs, now head coach at Easter Road having been in charge of Everton’s Under-21 side.
Laughing that he’d “half-called” his new boss “Stubbsie” and gaffer at the same time, he said: “I get on really well with him. He’s brought me on as a person since I first went to Everton. We just decided he was the right man to bring on my career more and make me a better player.
“Obviously playing for Hibs will give me more experience at the same time, so we decided that would be the best way.
“I don’t see any change in him now he’s a manager, he’s still the same man and he’s been brand new with me. Maybe his head is on a bit more now he has more responsibility around the club, but he is still brilliant and all the lads love him here. He’s doing a great job.”
And Kennedy revealed manager or not, Stubbs is still up for a laugh. He said: “I was out on the pitch the other day hitting free-kicks and he was behind me blasting balls at me and he smashed me on the head a few times. He’s a good laugh and a good manager, that’s why I came. I enjoyed working with him.”
There is, of course, a serious side too as Kennedy acknowledged. “Obviously he has been in the game,” he said. “Everyone has respect for him. You can tell he knows what he is talking about. Whatever he says I just try to take it on board and do what he says.”
He may not have been around Easter Road through the traumas of last season, but Kennedy has detected from his new team-mates that there’s a different atmosphere around their East Mains training centre today.
He said: “I have heard some of the boys say it was not the best last year, but he has come in and all the boys are loving him.
“I had the chance to come last year as well but we decided not to come obviously because of what was happening then and they were just kicking the ball up the field.
“Now Alan has come you can tell it’s all about passing and movement. That’s why I came, I like to play attacking football and that’s the way he plays.”
Kennedy admitted a few of his Everton team-mates had questioned his decision to return to Scotland, but he insisted he has no regrets about making his big move south. He said: “A lot of people do not understand Scottish football. A lot of the boys were like: ‘why would you come back up to Scotland, it’s not a very good league’.
“But they don’t understand how good Scottish football is. Hibs are a massive club and I really wanted to come when I heard they were interested.
“I was only 16 when I made my Killie debut at Easter Road. It was a long time ago, but I enjoyed the moment. I’ve come here to Hibs to find Paul Heffernan and Michael Nelson, two of my team-mates that day, here. I remember coming into the changing room with them and I was only a kid so I was a bit hesitant.
“Now they are brand new with me, although they still slag me about the days in Kilmarnock when I was just young and a wee guy.”
No longer, though, he insisted can he be regarded as the baby of the dressing-room, revealing he’s done a lot of growing up over the past couple of years.
He said: “I have no regrets about going to England, it was the right move. I went down there as a kid and now they have made me into a better person as well as a better player.
“I feel like I am ten times a better player than I would have been if I stayed here. I feel I’m more mature and that’s obviously going to happen with my age as well, but they treat you like a man, they just make you become more mature.”
Now Kennedy is looking forward to taking another step in his football education – his first derby. He said: “I’ve never played in a derby before, but a lot of my Dad’s friends are Hibs fans and growing up here I know it is a massive game in British football. I know a lot of the boys in the Hearts team from Scotland squads, I keep in touch with them on Twitter. The slagging has not started yet, but I am sure it will before and after the game.”