‘Money never won a game of football’ - Hibs boss issues rallying cry
The new Hibs manager won an A-League title with the smallest budget in the league - and believes the model can work here.
Nick Montgomery doesn’t do excuses. Refuses to shirk even the most daunting challenge. Believes with all his heart that finances need not be the defining factor in any sporting contest.
And the new Hibs head coach has the receipts to back up his belief that boldness, bravery and a focus on youth can reap massive dividends.
His Central Coast Mariners, working with the smallest budget in the competition, became the youngest ever team to win the A-League when they crushed big-spending Melbourne City – part of the global economic and sporting behemoth that is the City Group – in June’s Grand Final.
So, yes, he’s aware of the challenges he’s facing at Hibs. But he believes the squad he’s inherited from Lee Johnson is already strong enough to compete with any team in the Scottish Premiership.
And he won’t be whining about a lack of spending power hampering his ability to take on the big boys.
Reflecting on the achievement of finishing second in the table before crushing City 6-1 in the season finale, Montgomery said his Mariners – heavily outspent by the only team to finish ahead of them on points – refused to be cowed by their cash-rich opponents.
“It’s well documented it was the youngest team to ever win the A-League,” he said.
“And it was the lowest budget. To win the competition last season, I think everyone doubted it, but I never had any doubt.
“It was my job to make the players believe that, despite the clubs with the big budgets, money has never won a game of football.
“On the pitch, players win you games of football. Of course, at the top level, there’s a lot of money. But in terms of the A-League it was a massive achievement for everyone at the club.
“The reality is I had to put the squad together. And after missing out the previous season (Central Coast lost to Adelaide in the Elimination Finals), it was important I got the squad together and got the right players and right staff.
“It was a massive achievement. To win the final as emphatically as we did, I don’t think anyone would have predicted that. But I’m definitely proud of what we achieved.
“Now my full focus is on Hibs and being head coach of a club of this stature, and giving everything I can every single day to bring success back to the club.”
Montgomery, with two training sessions under his belt now, will be in the technical area as Hibs take on in-form Kilmarnock at Rugby Park on Saturday.
With almost 16 weeks until the transfer window re-opens, he has no choice but to work with the players at his disposal.
For the record, he’s confident that the board will back him in the market when January rolls around. But, for now, he’s content with what he’s seen.
“When the time comes I know Ian (Gordon) and Brian (McDermott) will back me. We’ve had some right good football conversations.
“But right now I believe the squad is more than capable of competing with everybody in the competition.
“I did research on the squad. I know some players out here and I watched a lot of games. I really believe there’s a lot of quality in the squad. There’s strength in depth.
“There are mainly two players in every position which is important for competition for places.
“So I’m not really thinking about anything other than the current squad and the young players at the club.”
A handful of players in the first team dressing room at East Mains had already laid the groundwork for the arrival of 41-year-old Montgomery, of course, with former Sydney striker Adam Le Fondre talking up the new gaffer’s attacking philosophy.
Cautioning against expecting a carbon copy of absolutely everything he did at Central Coast, the new boss said: “I think you have to adapt to everywhere you go.
“I had a very young team in the A-League. My remit was to make them play without fear against the big teams that had the big budgets, and that’s what worked for me over there.
“Of course, moving over here it will be more physical, going away from home it will be more hostile environments so it’s about educating the players, especially the young players, and having a game plan, whether home or away.
“That’s what we’ll work on during the week and executing that game plan is ultimately down to the players. But you have to adapt.
“I’ve watched a lot of games of the SPFL so I know it will be different. I’m not saying it’s exactly the same.
“I know Alfie (Le Fondre) played in the A League at one of the big clubs so I have experience of playing against him. He is one of the most natural goal scorers of his generation and if you get balls in the box he scores.”
Sitting on three points after four rounds of Scottish Premiership fixtures, courtesy of caretaker boss David Gray masterminding a 2-0 win over Aberdeen at Pittodrie just before the international break, Hibs have some serious catching up to do over the coming weeks.
Montgomery clearly can’t wait to get started, insisting: “I enjoy a challenge; anybody who knows me knows I enjoy a challenge.
“Right now the challenge is to pick up a team that hasn’t started the season well, get the results and give the team belief that we can finish as high as possible. That is not easy. It is a very competitive league.
“The challenge for me is to come in now and get the team playing, have them believing we can have a really strong season because it’s (still) really early.
“It was a fantastic result at Aberdeen that Dave got, so hopefully we can kick on from that and get some momentum going.”