Lee Johnson reveals Hibs 'connection' as he speaks on signings, Kenny Dalglish link, and 'really good' academy
When Hibs last appointed a manager – Shaun Maloney, in December last year – the first press briefing was conducted over Zoom late in the day.
It all felt a little hurried, perhaps mirroring the appointment of the former Belgium No.2, but a full 31 days elapsed between Maloney’s exit and the arrival of his successor Lee Johnson. Club chiefs had vowed not to rush the process and they stayed true to their word.
There was considerable sunshine on Leith as the former Sunderland and Bristol City boss walked into a crowded media room at Easter Road, and a blue sky that Hibs owner Ron Gordon and the board will hope reflects their thinking in handing control to the 40-year-old.
Johnson was relaxed as he discussed his Scottish heritage – “my Nan never stops harking on about it. She’s been sending me the family tartan and all that” – and why he feels he has unfinished business in Scotland.
"I genuinely have a love of Scottish football because of the passion and the history that goes with it and goes with the fans, simple as that,” he said.
"For whatever reason, I didn’t have long enough stints here as a player [with Hearts and latterly Kilmarnock] and it’s good now to be back.
"This is a massive opportunity and it has come at a time that suits both of us. I want to be successful.”
Johnson was very much a man in demand before taking the Hibs job, with offers for his services coming from around the world, not just other parts of England.
“I had a lot of opportunities to go to other places down south, and all parts of the globe. Four or five days ago, there was a very big one,” he revealed.
"But after discussions with my wife and family it just felt like there was a connection here. I like the family feel, and have had good conversations with Ben [Kensell, CEO] and Ian [Gordon, Head of Recruitment] to strike out the future."
It’s also the first time that Johnson has been out of work and in the position of applying for a new role.
“Throughout my career I’ve been bought twice and sacked twice, so the trajectory goes up; there were Premier League offers when we were flying at Bristol City.
“This decision is really important for Hibs but on a personal level it’s also really important in terms of my career.
“I felt I would have the best opportunity at this club to go and be successful and sleep at night with it being on me. Success or failure, it will be fair and that becomes a big part of it.
“But mainly it’s the big excitement to get back on the grass at a good club, with a good academy, and try to build something really positive.
“If I leave with that identity in place – hopefully in a number of years – that, for me, will be fantastic.”
In terms of success, Hibs have very clear aims each season, but player recruitment has come under the microscope in recent months, with the Capital club failing to finish in the top six.
Despite that, Johnson is of the opinion that the basis of the existing squad is pretty solid and he looks forward to supplementing it with new additions throughout the summer.
“I know we lost a big player in January in Martin Boyle, but at the same time the fundamental basis of the squad is here,” he continued.
“We can add to that, we have got scope to add to that which is obviously important.
“I think I can bring top connections from down south and across the UK. The personal relationships I have with key clubs down south, big clubs, I think can add value and therefore bring players in that make other players better. Then the sum of parts is stronger than it was originally.
“Success for us is to be competitive in the upper echelons of the league on a regular basis. The European places are up for grabs and we want to fight in cup finals as well.
“I think there is a big opportunity for success. Of course, there are four, five, six clubs vying for the same accolades but why not us, and why not us starting now?”
If ever Johnson needs advice he can always turn to a well-kent face in Scottish football circles: Kenny Dalglish. The pair have struck up a friendship – one of just many Johnson enjoys with key figures in UK football.
"I want to learn from the best. You could spend 20 minutes with Kenny and learn two years worth of management,” he added.
“You pick up things. When I got the Oldham job I asked him if he had any advice. He told me, ‘just be yourself’. I later learnt he rang the owner after and said, ‘I know you’re meeting Lee Johnson, he’s the real deal’ etc etc. It’s those things you can’t buy – the gravitas of Kenny Dalglish.”
One of the worst-kept secrets of the last seven day was Johnson going head-to-head with Jon Dahl Tomasson for the vacancy. There was a lot of support among the fans for the Dane, but the new Hibs boss is taking it all in his stride.
"It's not about proving anyone wrong, I feel fans have to be allowed to go whichever way they want,” he added.
"I understand it; I wasn't a massive name as a player and there were some big football names being bandied about.
"But it's not about me; it's about creating a united identity that we can all be proud of. Hopefully we can not only win, but win the way we want to.
“I want to prove that on the pitch with the players. If we can do that, then it can be really powerful.”