How Steve Kean plans to get more Hibs youngsters into the first team
There was no time frame put on it but Hibs new academy director Steve Kean has an idea of what would constitute success in his new role.
“I think success is providing players of a high standard who can go and represent the club and perform at a level where we can say we have the best young players in the country,” said the former Blackburn Rovers manager. “That is a big ask but why not set the bar high?”
The 54-year-old hails from Glasgow but has spent time coaching and managing at youth and first team level in England as well as in Spain, Crete, Brunei, and Australia, where he recently teamed up with former Hibs midfielder Grant Brebner.
His appointment completes the restructuring of the Leith club’s football department following the departure of former head of recruitment and sporting director Graeme Mathie and has also seen a role switch for former academy manager Eddie May, who has now been tasked with overseeing loan players.
And, it is all about developing a winning formula that bridges the huge gap between the academy and first team, which would allow Hibs to get back to the days of bringing through a steady supply of young talent, bolstering the team directly and indirectly, whether that be through performances or a sell-on fee than can be ploughed back into the squad.
“The way I see it, it’s my job to make sure the volume of players grows and that there’s more choice, better quality. The further down we have that depth of young talent the more we can become a real force locally and then nationally, making sure we get as many players into the system and that we help the coaches, because that is important.
“I think we're starting to see a number of youngsters coming through into the national team. We're starting to see a lot of our players playing at the big clubs in England, which used to be a thing of the past and that's starting to bear fruit.
“For us as a club, to continue to bring through high quality players, that can only bring us to the forefront of youth development and make sure Scotland continues to develop these players. Sometimes they're sold to the big clubs but we can only view that as success.
“All clubs have to be sustainable to a certain extent but I think the key thing is when you sell them. You are trying to sell them at the highest point possible but not to the detriment of results. It is a fine balance. You want to hold onto them until you do have a replacement but if the pathway is not there and you don’t have someone ready then, obviously, you try to hold onto the best players for as long as you can.”
With no like-for-like replacement for Mathie, chief executive Ben Kensell has spoken about recruitment becoming a more collaborative effort, and that proved the case when convincing Kean to return to his Scottish roots.
Revealing it was manager Jack Ross who first broached the subject of him joining Hibs, before leaving Kean, Kensell and owner Ron Gordon to finalise matters, that working relationship and shared football outlook could be integral to any plans reaching fulfilment.
“Myself and Jack have worked together in the [SFA] coach education programme where we coach young coaches who are going through their elite youth licence, their B licence, A licence.
“The thing I know about Jack is that he always wants to play good football and wants to develop not only young players but also make senior players and coaches even better. I think when you have that ‘make players better’ attitude as a coach, which he certainly has, it’s great.
“If the young players are good enough then I will hopefully bring them up and then Jack can involve them in the squads at the right times and we will see things on that side of the club going from strength to strength.”
But having worked in countries where varying degrees of importance is placed on the player pathway, he says there is work to be done in Scotland to address the gulf that currently exists between U-18 football and the first team due to the absence of a suitable reserve league.
“I can only say that the current system means that inside every club the jump is too big from academy football up,” explained Kean. “That is what we want to address with the construction of a whole new team - a development team - and we will try to go down south and play competitive games against u-23 teams in England.
“Down there, that set-up is already in place and I think that games programme, having that real test, and seeing if they are close, seeing if they can play up a level or, if there are younger, less experienced players in Jack’s team, maybe we can play them down a level, and give them an environment to play in that will allows us to develop them and see if they are ready to kick on. I think that is really really important. Playing domestic U-18 football and then going to play first team, the gap is just too big at the moment.”
First working together a year and a half ago, Ross is confident that Kean can help to solve that problem.
“Just by fate we ended up being paired together and working with smaller groups and one thing I liked is that while coaching has become more complicated with all the information you need to give out, the truth is the game is pretty simple, and the way in which you simplify the message and give clarity is important, and that's why Steve and I get on so well from a professional aspect. His ability to break down the game and communicate the message is vitally important.”