Tale of two Hibs signings as Lee Johnson waxes lyrical about importance of double deal
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But Lewis Stevenson isn't your average 35-year-old defender. About to embark on his 19th season with the Easter Road side, the humble full-back has just penned a new deal earned on his ‘physical outputs and the data we go through every day’, according to his manager.
“If he hadn’t earned it we’d be offering him a coaching or an ambassadorial role, wouldn’t we? Sentiment can’t be the prominent factor, it has to be performance on the pitch. He was my man of the match last weekend; if I was doing my own marks he’d have come out on top. That shows he is still a consistent performer and he has more in the locker, I truly believe that,” Johnson said as he previewed Saturday’s trip to Pittodrie to face Aberdeen in a must-win fixture.
Stevenson has never been the roaring, chest-beating, pre-derby smelling salts-using type but ‘when he speaks, people listen’.
“He has considered opinions and he’s also genuine, in that his heart’s in the right place for the club and team,” Johnson explains. “Which is why he has stayed at the club for as long as he has, not only for his performances but his personality. If he wasn’t right for the culture I would have certainly moved him on and other managers before me would have as well.
“What you’re seeing is a good footballer moving towards the end of his career, but I actually think still progressing. He’s out there doing every minute of every session, I think he’s got one of our highest rates of training ratios. He hasn’t lost any legs, therefore he can still offer on and off the pitch. That’s important. If you re-sign someone in the twilight of their career they need to add value to the playing squad or to the development squad or everywhere in between, and I think that’s something this club has been brilliant at.
“David Gray is a really talented coach who I have been delighted to work with this year; Darren McGregor as well [with the under-18s] and I’m sure Paul Hanlon will go down a similar route. These are players who should be integrated into the football club, and should be club men for a long time for their personalities as well as their performance.”
The list of pretenders to the left-back throne Stevenson has dismissed over the years is lengthy, but one day he will make way for a successor. Josh Doig came closest to unseating his mentor; Oscar MacIntyre looks like being next in line to try his luck.
“The role model element is really important and I think Lewis is really good at that. He leads in his own way which is individual conversations, it’s not ‘wacko’ and heading the wall and ‘c’mon lads, let’s get going’. But he will sit with younger lads, give them time, be a sounding board and give them that level of encouragement.
“I think he enjoys that role. He’s the type of personality who will be delighted if Oscar or anybody else takes his place at the right time, because he’ll have felt a part of that journey. Lewis Stevensons don’t come around that often, so when you do you need to make sure you hold onto them."
And what of the Élie Youans? Given Johnson’s comments after the St Mirren game about the mercurial Frenchman’s tendency to frustrate and impress in equal amounts, perhaps the fewer like him the better?
"The talent has always been there. He has a good pedigree, if you look at his international honours as a youngster coming through in France. We are lucky to have him in that sense. But this is a human piece as well. You have to help them settle and they have to understand the demands. Sometimes as a manager you think you’ve set the rules but you’ve not.
“The overriding factor is we want the best for our players. Élie has never had a bad attitude, he just had to conform a little bit with the UK-type levels and I think the only way is up for him as we get better players around him and more consistency, and the emotional stability of a long-term contract is important too for a manager and player.
"You are making decisions based on that long run and you’re more invested in the team. That’s why stability is important. We want to keep our best players here. We’ve already lost good players and that will happen to some extent. But if it does, it’s because it’s to go onto life-changing things for them.”
Two very different players, at opposite ends of their careers. Stevenson approaching the end of two decades as a senior pro, Youan in his fourth country in three years. One tasked with preventing goals, the other with making and scoring them. The pair linked up well against St Mirren, Youan showing a new defensive side to his game borne from adapting in training and on matchday. But both player and manager believe there is more to come from him.
"I think Élie has to produce more numbers,” Johnson continues. “If his final ball was world-class we wouldn’t have him! That’s one of the areas we need to work on. He gets in so many good areas but not quite often enough does that final action come off. It has in the last three or four months. He's not the finished article and we're not finished developing him. He's got mega work to do, but I think Hibs is a great vehicle for Élie."
The Evening News understands Hibs are also on the verge of confirming new contracts for two members of their under-19 squad, with an update expected on the new deals ahead of the weekend.