Shaun Maloney: Bold and brave appointment by Hibs, but club's great expectations would be tough for anyone to meet
Possession-based attacking style of play. Bringing through young academy players. Finishing in the top four. It won’t be easy for Shaun Maloney to deliver on all the three key performance indicators at the same time, but it will be fascinating to watch him try.
Hibs have certainly been bold and brave with their pursuit and appointment of the 38-year-old as head coach.
They could have gone for a safe pair of hands, but amid growing concern about falling attendances as well as poor results in the league this season, majority shareholder Ron Gordon will be banking on Maloney to generate some excitement among the fans. More bums on seats are required (when they are allowed to, of course).
The reaction from most Hibs supporters so far has been positive and unveiling the new head coach the morning after a cup final defeat was good PR. Hibs are moving on.
Gordon himself said on Sunday that this appointment marks the beginning of a “new chapter” for the club, but it won’t be just Maloney who’ll be judged as the story unfolds.
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The 71-year-old and the new regime he has put in place will be under scrutiny and held accountable too. Nearly two and a half years have passed since Gordon swept to power, the Peruivian-born businessman replacing Rod Petrie as chairman after buying out Sir Tom Farmer’s controlling interest.
He inherited Leanne Dempster, Jack Ross and Graeme Mathie and afforded them all plenty of time, but all three have now gone and Gordon has now been able to assemble his own management structure, his own team, his own people.
The key personnel are all his appointments. Ben Kensell arrived as chief executive in the summer, Steve Keane as academy director last month and now Maloney has now been headhunted as head coach.
He is the 34th manager in the club’s history but the 15th Hibs have had this century. He will need more time than is usually afforded to those in the Easter Road hotseat.
Maloney has signed a three-and-a-half year contract, but none of the 14 men that have gone before him this century has lasted that long.
Neil Lennon stayed in post for two-and-a-half-year years, Ross for two. The average tenure has been between roughly 18 months.
Indeed, nobody since Alex Miller’s ten-year stint from 1986 to 1996 has lasted as long as three and a half years as Hibs boss. Miller wasn’t exactly lauded or loved for his style of play but he got results, won a trophy and established the club as a credible top-flight force again after the financial troubles of the early 80s.
There are some Hibs fans who draw comparisons between Miller and Ross. The latter may have secured a third place finish for the first time 2005 and reached two cup finals, but it wasn’t enough for those who felt his style of play was simply too dull.
Hibs fans can be hard to please. But perhaps Gordon agreed on this point, albeit that it was a wretched run of league results rather than style of play that cost Ross his job in the end.
So, can Maloney succeed where Ross apparently failed? The younger man arrives at Easter Road with a strong reputation as a bright young coach who favours an attack-minded, dynamic style of football.
He has been able to implement that as assistant to Roberto Martinez because he was working with some of the best players in the world. Belgium are expected to dominate and win every game, such are the riches of talent at their disposal. That is not the case at Hibs, with all due respect.
Maloney is well aware of that, of course. Being aware of the limitations, however, won’t make it any easier if playing attacking, possession-style football and winning at the same time is the job description in a league where, outside the Old Firm, anyone can beat anyone on their day and the gap between third and bottom is narrow. The commitment to bring through more academy players at the same time as winning in style is an added complication.
Ross brought through and established Ryan Porteous, Josh Doig and Josh Campbell as first-team players.
Finishing third in the league and reaching four semi finals in two years at the helm, two of them progressing onto the final, ticked another box, but if he failed on style of play then Maloney will surely be expected to pass.
Can the new man actually deliver on all three KPIs? Forget about any doubts over lack of experience. He is an intelligent and respected coach who has worked with the very best players in the world in high pressure matches.
The real doubt is whether anyone can really live up to such lofty expectations.
If he does, he might not last long anyway. Bigger suitors would be ready to pounce.
VAR won’t solve everything
The suggestion that VAR would have helped prevent both Hibs and Hearts from being on the receiving end of poor officiating in their most recent encounters with Celtic just doesn’t stand up.
England captain Harry Kane’s horror tackle on Scotland counterpart Andy Robertson in the thrilling Tottenham v Liverpool match proves that.
Inexplicably, the video assistant referee did not advise the on-field whistler that he had made a clear and obvious error by not sending Kane off.
It was just one of several incidents missed by VAR in the Premier League last weekend.
The Edinburgh clubs were rightly aggrieved about the goals Celtic scored at Parkhead and Hampden and
of course VAR would benefit Scottish football. But it won’t eradicate controversy.
The Kane incident just goes to show, VAR is only as good as the people running it.