Steven Whittaker ponders coaching career '“ but focus is on helping Hibs youngsters
With every passing day Steven Whittaker knows that, at the age of 34, he's edging ever closer to when he has to make that decision every footballer dreads, when to call it a day.
Midway through a second spell at Easter Road, Whittaker admits that at the moment he’s undecided as to which path he will take when that moment comes, torn between becoming a manager or a coach.
He said: “If I sign again I’ll be 36 in that season but I don’t know yet what I’m going to do. I’ll wait and see how I feel, I suppose, and if I feel I’m still capable of playing – and someone wants me – you never know.
“Would I play down the divisions? There could be an opportunity that comes up to play down the divisions with a coaching role involved in that, who knows? So that’s a hard question to answer.
“It’s strange to think I was only at Norwich two seasons ago but it feels like a lot longer. I try and live in the moment. But when my contract runs out that’ll be 20 years since I started.”
He is though, making preparations, revealing that alongside Celtic captain Scott Brown, still a firm mate from their days together at Hibs, they have been taking steps towards getting their coaching qualifications.
“We have done our coaching B badge together a few years ago and have always talked about doing the A Licence together,” he said. “We’re may be looking at getting it done this summer. That takes me into the last year of my contract.
“Do I see myself as a manager? I do at times, yes. Would I be like Lenny? [Hibs boss Neil Lennon] No, I think I’m a calmer person. As a manager I think you need your players to know that they can’t just go out on the pitch. You need to have that switch where they know you mean business. So sometimes I think I would like to be a manager and other times I think I could be a coach. But at the moment it’s a case of ticking the boxes and seeing what part I like.”
Should he choose management as a future career Whittaker has plenty of experience to fall back on having worked under the likes of Bobby Williamson, Tony Mowbray and John Collins at Easter Road, Walter Smith and Ally McCoist at Rangers, Chris Hughton at Norwich, and George Burley, Craig Levein and Gordon Strachan at international level.
“I think you take something from all the managers you play for,” he said. “You probably don’t think about it too much when you’re younger – you’re fearless and do what you need to do as a player. But as you get older you think about it more.You think about tactics and decisions managers make. I played under a few managers and take a little bit from all of them, if that’s something I choose to do in the future.”
In the meantime Whittaker will continue to help the current crop of Hibs youngsters by leading by example, Lennon having pointed out that as his most senior players, he and Efe Ambrose have been the only ones out of his entire squad who have been available to play in every game so far this season, the rest having fallen victim to injury at one point or another.
He said: “Some players are luckier with injuries. After Efe played 90 minutes he’d still train on the Monday whereas I’m a little bit older now so I manage my way through it.
“But I think I’m sensible enough and know my body well enough.
“At the end of the day it’s about being available at the weekend. That’s what your focus during the week has to be, to put yourself in the best place and frame of mind to play and get three points. That’s all I try and do.
“Football has changed from when I first started; there’s a lot more Sports Science these days. We get told a lot of statistics and that’s taken over. We had nothing like that when I first came through, but it’s all relative.”
However, for any player, it is simply not about just being available each weekend, but performing.
“You can’t just turn up one week and then not turn up the next and that’s probably something we’ve been a little bit guilty of this year,” said the defender. “We’re putting in the performances we know we’re capable of against the likes of Celtic at home. But then we’re not always reaching those heights. Listen, you’re not going to be at your best every week but that’s where the mentality comes in.
“On the days when you’re not playing as well as you can then you need to show the hard work and mentality to take something from the game.”
And with today’s youngsters enjoying the £5 million training centre built by Hibs at East Mains, part funded by the fees paid for the likes of himself, Brown and Kevin Thomson, Whittaker believes there should be no excuses.
He said: “I’ve watched the changes since I first started. We used to turn up at Easter Road not knowing where we were going to train that day.
“We would all jump on the minibus and drive for 25 minutes to find a bit of grass. Then afterwards it was back on the minibus – covered in mud, depending on the weather. But the boys there were all just delighted to have the chance to play football for a living.
“We all wanted to make the most of the opportunity. Now the boys turn up at the training centre and have all the best facilities at their feet.
“That’s all they’ve known – but I’ve seen both sides of it. The important thing is that the lads now make the most of what they have available to them.”
Like Brown, Whittaker has had more than a little criticism from some this season, much of it based on their advancing years, at least in football terms. But that is something, he insisted, he finds easy to ignore.
“That’s football,” he said. “You are built up and then shot down. You can’t look into that too much or you wouldn’t ever feel normal.
“You need to keep a level head to enjoy your life away from football and have a good balance. You want to strive to be the best you can be but also be level.
“You can have a bad performance for your team but when I go home my children are oblivious to that. You need that to calm yourself away from football.
“I know Scott, and that won’t bother him one bit. He’ll probably play in a week’s time and show that he’s still more than capable of playing. He’s a year younger than me so he’s got plenty of time!”