Why Hibs' Director of Football decision may be a sign the club is learning its lessons

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Hibs have begun their search for a Director of Football following an internal review of operations at the club, with a particular focus on the last couple of transfer windows at Easter Road.

As part of a wide-ranging update, chief executive Ben Kensell said: “We haven’t been good enough on the pitch and we know that. Just before the World Cup, we started a review based on previous transfer windows and as a result of that, we have restructured. I have 100 per cent backing from the board that we will be bringing in a Director of Football."

But for all the talk of it being a big step forward – which it undeniably is, given events on and off the field at Hibs in the last 12-14 months – it looks awfully like the structure that was in situ when the new regime took the reins, but with the Director of Football replacing the Sporting Director role last held by Graeme Mathie, now managing director at Ayr United.

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With Hibs just announcing the decision to bring a figure into the senior management team at the club, the process is still in its infancy. There have been no hats thrown into the ring just yet, with Kensell stressing the importance of getting the appointment right, rather than rushing to fill the vacancy.

Who could step into the Director of Football role at Hibs?Who could step into the Director of Football role at Hibs?
Who could step into the Director of Football role at Hibs?

So, who could potentially fill the role?

A quick glance at social media reveals a clutch of names such as John Collins, Pat Nevin, John Park, and Gordon Strachan put forward by supporters. Some of the more disillusioned fans appear to believe that the club will keep things indoors and simply appoint Steve Kean to the role. The former Blackburn Rovers boss served as technical director at OFI Crete between 2019 and 2020 but seems more than content with his current role as academy chief and given the incoming DoF will have to work closely with the academy, it would seem to make sense to maintain a consistent leadership at the top of the club’s youth development.

There are obvious Hibs links with Collins (former player and manager), Nevin (fan), Park (former Head of Youth Development) and Strachan (lapsed supporter). Park would appear to be the best fit based on Kensell’s job description but it’s also clear that a fair number of fans appear keen to have someone not just on the staff, but in a prominent role as well, who has more of a connection to the club.

They may not get their wish with the incoming director of football, but if returning to a familiar, tried-and-tested structure can get the club back on an even keel then that wouldn’t be a bad runner-up prize.

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Hibs chief executive Ben KensellHibs chief executive Ben Kensell
Hibs chief executive Ben Kensell

These days, directors of football or sporting directors – call them what you will – come from varied backgrounds. Kristjaan Speakman at Sunderland, for instance, cut his teeth coaching at Derby County’s academy before a 14-year stint at Birmingham City where he initially served as academy manager before taking the Academy Director role. Stuart Webber at Norwich City started off as ground staff at Wrexham, eventually moving into the club’s Head of Youth role, followed by stints as Liverpool’s director of recruitment, head of scouting at QPR and Wolves, and director of football at Huddersfield before his move to Carrow Road in 2017. Closer to home Joe Savage at Hearts had spells as assistant manager of East Stirlingshire Under-20s before joining Hamilton as their chief scout. Similar roles followed with Norwich and Preston before he returned north to take up a sporting director role at Tynecastle Park. At the other end of the M8 Ross Wilson joined Rangers after spells as academy manager at Watford and Falkirk, and Director of Professional Football and Scout with Huddersfield and Southampton. He also had a spell as press officer for the Bairns.

There is no tried and tested ‘route’ to becoming a director of football, which effectively opens up the Easter Road position to a wider variety of candidate. But given the emphasis on recruitment and knowledge of the Scottish game in Kensell’s address to the fans, along with the need for someone who has ‘worked with and for big clubs in senior positions’, it’s quite clear that Hibs are after a very particular set of skills (with apologies to Liam Neeson). “We need to improve in all aspects of our football strategy,” he added. Hard to argue with that.

Manager Lee Johnson has lamented ‘past mistakes’ made by the club; the Ryan Porteous contract situation top of his list of complaints and the club’s transfer business following close behind. Kensell’s remarks about the new arrival ideally helping to ‘ensure we correct some of the things we have got wrong’ is a little vague, but follows a similar path. Given the emphasis on recruitment in Tuesday’s update, it’s not unthinkable that CEO and manager are aligned on the type of player brought in over the last couple of windows.

The past 12 months or so has effectively been a write-off for Hibs. The hiring and firing of Maloney, the failure to make top six last season, the Premier Sports Cup group fiasco, a stuttering start to the cinch Premiership campaign, and a dismal run of form that hasn’t yet been turned around.

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If Hibs are learning from their mistakes then it can only be a good thing, although it does feel as though the club still has a bit to go to coax large swathes of the support back onside. Results on the park would be one way, smarter recruitment would be another. So too better communication, although Kensell’s update may be another sign of the club holding its hands up. Hibs appear to be getting their house in order, at long last, but it is a crucial month both on and off the field. They are not out of the woods yet. But there are signs that they’re heading in the right direction.

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