Paul Heckingbottom and Hibs mull over club’s future in SPFL Reserve League
Paul Heckingbottom has revealed Hibs’ future in the SPFL Reserve League is under review as he considers the best way to nurture the Easter Road outfit’s young talent.
Reserve-team football returned to replace the Under-20s development league this season, but there have been concerns that the new set-up, won by Rangers with Hibs finishing third, fails to prepare young players for first-team action.
St Johnstone have already pulled out, while Celtic and Rangers are said to be at the forefront of plans to introduce a trans-European reserve league featuring sides from Belgium, Austria, Switzerland and Denmark.
While he believes that road would be financially prohibitive for Hibs, Heckingbottom – who revealed the city club had to turn down a game with a Juventus team recently – admitted playing friendlies such as yesterday’s match with Middlesbrough Under-23s and next week’s game against Huddersfield Town’s Under-20s could be an option.
“I don’t know,” said the head coach when asked if Hibs would be playing in the reserve league next season. “It is constantly being spoken about and asked about. The only concern for me is whether we can still get the fixtures and I think we could, no problem.
“We are always looking for the best way to bridge the gap between development/reserve football and the first team. We’d welcome anyone who wants to come and play games here, without a doubt.
“But I’ve not heard anything about a European League. I don’t think there’s scope for it when all the teams who play in Europe carry a 19s team to play in the Champions League that shadows the first team. Beneath that, you don’t have the finance. It’d probably have to be a one-off or part of a tour to experience that type of football.”
Heckingbottom feels that clubs need to keep control on how they develop their young players, saying: “For some that might be to get the players out on loan, but the problem is if we send a player out on loan, what job will be he be asked to do, what environment is he going into. If we send a midfielder out because we want him to get better at receiving the ball, breaking lines with his passes, making it into the box and scoring goals, how many clubs are there out there who can cater for that and help our particular player?
“If they’re not and we send him to a direct team or a team that is going to play him as a holding midfielder then we are actually putting him further away from our first team. We might be making him a lad who is going to have a career because he might impress and someone might buy him or want him to stay at that club, so we have to be sure who the loan is for.
“Is it to get the boy close to our first team? Then we have to put a lot of thought into it, manage it and really scrutinise that loan and what he is getting out of it. If it is someone who we have said there is no pathway for here then he can go on loan to try to help his career, but we have be really careful.
“You can’t just say that we are coming out of the league and instead we are throwing everyone out on loan. Then you are not in control. We’ve been having lots of chats about our young players and how we get the next ones into the first team and when you get them in the team, how do you keep them there.
“How are we going to develop a pathway to get them in the team? That might be using the reserve league along with loans, it might be using the reserves along with some first-team exposure, or the reserve league along with some friendlies we fix up. Or it might be the reserve league, so we have to get in control of it and bridge that gap for our younger players.”