Hibs coach explains how Hibs’ youth team will operate without reserve league
The SPFL Reserve League kicks off a week on Monday diminished by the absence of several of Scotland’s leading teams, including Hibs.
The Easter Road club took the decision to quit the set-up earlier this summer, along with Rangers, Celtic, Aberdeen and St Johnstone amid a variety of concerns about its value – or lack of – to the development of their best young players. In the season ahead, Hibs will instead arrange a series of carefully-selected friendlies which they believe will provide their under-20s with the required level of challenge to aid their progress as they bid to follow the likes of Ryan Porteous, Fraser Murray, Sean Mackie and Oli Shaw in making the step-up to the first team.
“We’ll play games against other 20s teams in Scotland – the likes of Celtic, Rangers and Aberdeen,” said Hibs’ new under-20s coach Lee Makel. “We’ll also play a few English teams home and away, and we’ve got the Reserve Cup so that should give us a good bunch of fixtures. The club have been putting a fixture list together. It helps in that regard that other clubs in Scotland have pulled out the Reserve League and are in the same boat as us, looking for games.
“There might be the odd occasion when we have a free week, but we’d then look to fix up a friendly with a Lowland League team or something like that as a one-off. We’ll have some challenging games and that’s the whole point in us going in this direction. We want to challenge the boys more and give them better opposition to play against, so they can adapt and give themselves a better chance of reaching the first team.
“It’ll be good to come up against English teams. We did that at end of last season when we played Huddersfield and Middlesbrough, and we played Newcastle a few weeks ago, which was a good exercise. It gives us the opportunity to try things out against opposition we’re not used to playing. I’m relishing playing against opposition from down south because we can learn so much tactically and technically. It’ll be interesting – we’re all looking forward to it to see how it pans out.”
Hibs’ decision to quit the Reserve League has been fully endorsed by Makel. “I’m comfortable with it,” he said. “If it’s going to push the boys on, give them a sterner test and challenge them, that’s what we want. We want them to be challenged in every single game. It’s no good playing games where they’re going to win by seven, eight or nine because that’s where you can pick up bad habits. We want them playing against good opposition. We’ll be selective with who we’re playing so we know we’ll have good-quality opposition. The other teams who have come out the Reserve League are thinking exactly the same as us. They want to push their good players on.”
Makel, the 46-year-old former Hearts midfielder, joined Hibs four years ago as their under-15s coach shortly after leaving his post as assistant manager to Colin Cameron at Cowdenbeath. He has worked his way up to the role of under-20 coach, where he replaces Grant Murray, who is now first-team coach.
“Last season, even though Grant took the 20s games, he was training the first team during the week, so myself, Colin Nish and Eddie May trained the 20s,” explained the Sunderland-born Makel, who enjoyed a career as a footballer spanning more than two decades. “The only difference now is that I’ll take the games and will have more input in terms of team talks and team selection. I’m enjoying it. It’s a great club to be at with some exceptional coaches and I’m learning every day.”
Hibs are working to ensure the transition from under-20s level to the first team is as smooth as possible. In that regard, regular communication with head coach Paul Heckingbottom is crucial. “We always try and incorporate how the first team play and train so that once the players make the transition from the 20s to the first team it isn’t too big a step for them and they know what they’re doing,” said Makel. “Eddie speaks to Paul regarding systems etc, and me and Eddie will then sit down and discuss how we’re going to work it from there.”