As the Easter Road club searches for their head coach’s replacement, here’s our 12-point plan to ensure the new man flourishes ..
ESTABLISH SWIFTLY WHO’S STAYING AND GOING
Scottish Cup-winning heroes like Paul Hanlon and Conrad Logan are out of contract and free to sign for other clubs. If Stubbs had remained, he would have been keen to keep both players, particularly defensive linchpin Hanlon. The long-serving centre-back is currently contemplating his options but could still remain at Easter Road. If he doesn’t stay, then Jordon Forster, who had fallen out of favour under Stubbs but has the offer of a two-year deal on the table, may be more inclined to pledge his future to the club. The new head coach must also speak with key men like Jason Cummings and John McGinn to find out whether they have the heart for another season in the Championship. They are the two most likely to attract interest from elsewhere and the last thing Hibs need is to plan for having them, then find a debilitating transfer saga erupts in August, as happened with Scott Allan last year.
ENSURE A STRONG AND BULLISH MENTALITY REMAINS
In contrast to some of his recent predecessors, Stubbs understood Hibs’ standing as one of the biggest clubs in the country and proved to be a suitably strong figurehead. After playing for the likes of Celtic and Everton, he arrived at Easter Road with a big-club mentality and wasn’t fazed by the prospect of locking horns with the likes of Rangers or Hearts, two teams who had, in the past, become accustomed to dominating Hibs. His confidence – both in press conferences and behind closed doors – rubbed off on his team, who played, particularly against Premiership sides in the cup competitions, with a fearlessness not seen at Easter Road for years. As title favourites next season, the new man would do well to tap into this mentality and make sure his players retain a level of bullishness about them.
EXCITE THE FANS
Short of beating Hearts in a cup final or winning the Premiership, it will be impossible for any new man to replicate the scenes that followed Stubbs’ last match in charge. The fans are on a high after the Scottish Cup triumph but will require further stimulation to keep them interested for a third season in the Championship. Winning games alone might not be enough to spark an upturn in attendances. One criticism of Stubbs was that his teams rarely put lesser sides to the sword in the same ruthless manner that Hearts and Rangers did in winning the league over the last two seasons. As title favourites next term, there will be an expectation on the new manager to ensure Hibs play with swagger and rack up a regular flow of convincing wins. To get in behind stuffy opponents, the new man might decide to give increased exposure to sparky players like Martin Boyle, Dan Carmichael, or even Alex Harris.
WORK WITHIN HIBS’ STRUCTURE
The Hibs manager is unlikely to be given carte blanche rule of the club in the same way that Sir Alex Ferguson called all the shots at Manchester United. The new man will be expected to work closely alongside the likes of head of football operations George Craig, chief executive Leeann Dempster and chief scout Graeme Mathie to ensure that a coherent strategy continues to underpin the football department of the club. Stubbs worked well under this structure, so there is no reason that the set-up should be viewed as a hindrance by any prospective new head coach.
HIT THE GROUND RUNNING IN THE LEAGUE
In the last two seasons, Hibs’ promotion challenges have been severely undermined by slack starts to their league campaign. Two seasons ago, they lost four of their first six games as eventual champions Hearts romped into the distance. Last season, they lost two of their first three and were always playing catch-up to Rangers. A strong and assertive start is required from Hibs to show Falkirk and Dundee United they mean business, keep the fans onside and, perhaps most crucially, prevent panic setting in.
DON’T LET EUROPE BECOME A CALAMITY
Europa LEAGUE qualification is a total bonus for Hibs. Although exiting at the first hurdle in July won’t be a major issue for the Easter Road club, it is important that they at least make a decent fist of their unlikely chance on the continental stage. A gallant exit against more illustrious opposition will be tolerated. However, anything resembling the 9-0 aggregate annihilation by Malmo three years ago will get the new head coach off on the wrong foot and allow much of the Scottish Cup feelgood factor to ebb away before a domestic ball is kicked.
MAINTAIN A LEVEL OF CONTINUITY
The majority of last season’s squad remain under contract and it is clear that there is good harmony and spirit among the players. The new head coach would do well to form a similar type of bond with the players that Stubbs enjoyed and harness the togetherness in the squad to his advantage. There is no obvious need to rip up the squad or make any radical changes to the way they work on a weekly basis. Doing so would merely risk upsetting a group who are, on their day, widely deemed to be among the best in the country. There may be the odd individual that the new man doesn’t fancy, but only a few tweaks are required to ensure this Hibs squad is equipped to win the Championship.
UTILISE CELTIC LOAN OPTION
Hibs undoubtedly benefited from being able to bring in Dylan McGeouch – who later sealed a permanent move – Liam Henderson and Anthony Stokes on loan from Celtic during Stubbs’ reign. The Parkhead club will have been heartened by the amount of game time Henderson was given at Easter Road and are sure to consider that when pondering where to farm out their fringe men or youngsters in future. Dempster has a good working relationship with her Celtic counterpart Peter Lawwell so there is no reason the Celtic loan route should be cut off to Hibs simply because Stubbs, a former Parkhead player, has left. New Celtic manager Brendan Rodgers is sure to have a surplus of players come the start of the season, so it may be that the likes of Scott Allan, Ryan Christie or even Henderson are made available for loan moves come August.
GIVE SAM STANTON ANOTHER CHANCE
At this time two years ago, Stanton was deemed Hibs’ prized asset. Under Alan Stubbs, however, he became a peripheral figure and was eventually loaned out to Livingston where he scored three goals in 15 starts. With a total of ten goals in 46 career starts, and with Hibs short of goalscoring midfielders, the homegrown 22-year-old is surely worth another look to see if he can rediscover the promising form he showed at the tail end of the 2013/14 season.
SIGN A POWERFUL CENTRE-FORWARD
James Keatings, Jason Cummings, Martin Boyle and Jamie Insall are the only strikers currently on the books and all are small, predominantly fox-in-the-box types. With Farid El Alagui unlikely to be retained, at least one new centre-forward with good physical attributes is required to offer an extra dimension in attack.
Stubbs was able to build a squad of established players, meaning there was no real opportunity for academy boys to get anything more than an occasional seat on the bench. The budget is unlikely to allow the new head coach to carry as big a squad, so he may have to turn to the development squad on occasions. Title rivals Dundee United and Falkirk are likely to rely on their own fair share of homegrown players, so there is no reason Hibs shouldn’t look to give the likes of Scott Martin, Callum Crane, Oli Shaw or Aaron Dunsmore increased exposure.
WIN PROMOTION BY HOOK OR BY CROOK
There can be no excuses next season. Stubbs’ team were never going to be favourites to win the league because they were in the second tier alongside Hearts and Rangers in the first season and the revitalised Ibrox side last term. The toll of getting to two cup finals was an obvious factor in them being unable to come through the play-offs last month, and the subsequent Scottish Cup final triumph ensured there would be little to no recriminations for failing to earn promotion at the second attempt. There will be no such leeway afforded the new man. Nothing – even another cup win – will soften the blow if Hibs somehow fail to make their title favourites status count next season.