Graeme Mathie: Hibs boss Paul Heckingbottom not expecting departure of key operator
Paul Heckingbottom is convinced Hibs’ head of player recruitment Graeme Mathie is happy to stay with the Easter Road club amid speculation linking him with a move to Premiership rivals Rangers and Kilmarnock.
Mathie has been a key figure in the Capital outfit’s renaissance, working closely with chief executive Leeann Dempster and head of football operations George Craig during the rebuild of the club following the shock of relegation five years.
As such, he’s played a vital role in helping shape the squads of Alan Stubbs – who led Hibs to that historic Scottish Cup triumph – Neil Lennon, who steered the club back into the top flight, and now Heckingbottom.
While the fruits of his labours have been seen in the players attracted to Edinburgh, his work goes largely unseen by the ordinary support, liaising closely with the head coach while constantly identifying and tracking possible signings.
However, Mathie is well-known and highly respected far and wide within the football business, leaving Heckingbottom to admit he’s not surprised at claims Rangers new sporting director Ross Wilson is considering a move for him, while he’s also said to have been a frontrunner for Kilmarnock’s new director of football role.
Heckingbottom, though, insisted Mathie – considered by many to be a natural successor to Craig who has announced he is to stop down at the end of this year from his pivotal position within the club’s heirarchy – isn’t angling for a move away.
“I don’t pay any attention to it,” he said. “I’m not saying there isn’t truth in it. There is certainly some truth in the Kilmarnock thing, but whether there is in the Rangers one, I don’t know.
“Until things happen or there are decisions to be made, it’s pointless worrying about it. It’s like all the speculation you get with players, a lot of it is just talk. We will have to wait and see.
“But Graeme loves the club and he has never once been trying to angle for a move away or anything like that. If people think he is doing a good job and they approach the club, that’s a different manner.
“But it’s not being drummed up in any shape or form for Graeme to get a benefit out of it. He loves it here. He wants to work here.”
Heckingbottom, who has brought nine new faces to Hibs in addition to the returning Scott Allan, agrees that being solely responsible for making new signings in addition to the many duties expected of a manager was too much for anyone to take on, with clubs adopting increasingly sophisticated methods as they vie to attract the best possible players.
He said: “My jobs is too big now to be doing the recruitment, to be doing all the filtering of players. The way I see it, if you’re the manager or the head coach, you’re really involved at the front end of the process and you have to be really clear about the positions, type of player you want and what the team needs to look like.
“The more detail you give, the better. Then it’s up to the recruitment department to use that to filer their judgements, decisions and then present players. It’s a bigger factor now in being successful.
“Data, video, how accessible the world is, makes the job even bigger. To get out and about and see and know every player. Every club has their own approach, whether it’s data-led or video, still old scouting – or a mixture of everything.
“The best clubs, the clubs who are the most successful at it, will be the ones who have got the strategy and their alignment right. Recruiting, the style of play, who fits with how that club wants to play, making good business decisions, getting control of who they sign and when. Then being able to sell at the right time, which is just – if not more – important than who you sign.”
Ultimately, however, it is the manager who carries the can, the man who has the final say.
“Of course you have to take responsibility,” said Heckingbottom. “You are involved in the beginning and at the end. You have the players who have been found, presented to you – and then you get involved.
“Some you can’t afford. Others, if you can afford and everybody is happy, you go for them. That’s the process. You’d be kidding yourself if you were sitting in the manager’s chair and thinking you could take control of the whole process.
“You might have contacts who you can trust, guys who will put people your way. You’d be daft not to take advantage of that. But if that’s all you use, that won’t work, given how small the world is now, how many players there are out there.
“I’ve walked into a structure where George has worked really hard to put people in place in all departments, people who are excellent at their jobs. Now we have to get really good at each department complementing each other and everyone understanding their role in getting the three points.”