Should they stay or should they go? The uncertain future of Hibs' two biggest assets
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As much as it’s easy to be caught up in the excitement of bringing in new players who could potentially be the next club heroes, there’s always the possibility that current stars and fan favourites could be departing if bigger or wealthier clubs take an interest.
There’s a careful balancing act to be played as well. Unless those in charge of a football department are employed by one of the world’s biggest clubs, they’ll know the vast majority of players see their position as a stepping stone to something bigger and more lucrative. It’s just the way football is these days, even if the player in question happens to be a boyhood supporter. Therefore, you can turn down offers until you’re blue in the face, but ultimately it could mean you lose one of your best for absolutely nothing somewhere down the road.
That’s certainly at the forefront of the thought process for Hibernian’s management as they consider the future of Ryan Porteous.
The centre-back is about to enter the final year of his deal and has thus far been reluctant to sign a new one. Millwall made a bid in the 2021 January transfer window, which Hibs rejected, but there hasn’t been a concrete offer since then, at least not anything that’s been divulged publicly. Galatasaray were said to be sniffing about last summer, and are thought to retain an interest this year too, but haven’t made a move.
The club would love to get the player tied down to a new deal. Not only is Porteous one of the league’s better defenders, his comfort on the football makes him an important cog in their attacking gameplan. Hibs struggled badly last season without him and it would hardly be conducive for Lee Johnson to have a strong start as the club’s new manager if they sold arguably his best player before a ball was kicked.
Whether they can convince him to stay is a different story. Unless hit by injury or a disastrous tumble in form, Porteous wouldn’t have too much to lose by sticking around for another year or two. At 23, there is plenty of time in his career ahead of him and, while he’s undoubtedly a talent in the cinch Premiership, he’s yet to properly reach his potential at this level. The season before last, his abilities were diminished by a number of defensive gaffes as the season drew to a close. Having rid himself of those concentration errors last term, he then struggled with disciplinary issues, being sent off three times and missing nine games as a result.
There is, however, a growing train of thought that he needs a fresh start to fully concentrate on making himself the best possible footballer. Earlier this month he pled guilty to the charge of culpable and reckless conduct after throwing a plastic tumbler which struck a woman in the head, causing her injury. This occurred the same night he was pictured among a group where one of the party stole a wreath from someone’s front door. Home-town comforts might not provide the best support system to the Dalkeith native.
If Hibs are going to sell Porteous this summer, chances are they’re not going to get full value for his talents given the dwindling contract. The same shouldn’t, however, be said of team-mate Josh Doig. The left-back, who just turned 20 last month, still has another four years left to run on the extension he signed in November last year.
Doig has been the subject of transfer speculation with Bologna said to be considering him as a potential replacement for ex-Hearts star Aaron Hickey, should the Scotland international move to the English Premier League. He had his admirers 12 months ago with Watford and Burnley at one point said to be closing in on his signature. He was even left out of a fixture in preparation for a potential move away, but the then-EPL sides ultimately bulked at Hibs’ reported asking price of £5 million.
This is something Ron Gordon and the Hibs hierarchy need to be wary of. They’ve previously shown the kind of ambition and stubbornness around transfer sales which is heartening to supporters, who never want to see any of their favourites sold for less than a perceived value (which is typically inflated due to the emotional attachment), but it’s come back to bite them before. They had the chance to turn a £250k outlay into a £3 million sale within six months when Birmingham City tried to sign Kevin Nisbet halfway through his stellar debut campaign. Instead they gambled on Nisbet’s stock rising higher – which, to be fair, with him playing at the Euros that summer it wasn’t the strangest of decisions – and ultimately lost. Nisbet’s form noticeably dipped before a serious knee injury finished his season, and likely his year, in late February. It’s hard to imagine anyone offering even £1 million for him now.
It also feels like Doig’s value has slipped from last year. He wasn’t bad in 2021/22. In fact, he was probably one of the best players during Shaun Maloney’s ill-fated 19 games in charge, but didn’t have the same kind of swashbuckling attacking impact which defined his breakthrough campaign.
Barely out of his teens, Doig’s still got a bit to learn at this level and can take his reputation up a notch if he performs as expected in an improved Hibs side, should Johnson prove himself to the right man for the job. But he also must be casting glances at Hickey and how his career has gone from strength to strength since swapping Tynecastle for Serie A.
It’s not just Hibs who have to weigh up the pros and cons and get their decision just right.