It’s taken a little time in happening, as we knew it would, but Hibernian have finally settled on a new man at the helm to replace former boss, John Hughes. The usual cloak and dagger juncture that we anticipate from Easter Road in these circumstances has been a feature of the operation with few fans or media correctly guessing at Calderwood, at least until the very last day or so.
These times are always interesting of course and we are told that as many as 105 individuals have applied for a job which some see as something of a poisoned chalice of late. It is unfortunate to see that Easter Road has, like many other clubs, become something of a graveyard for managers in the past few seasons. Since the relatively successful and hugely entertaining tenure of Tony Mowbray, Chairman Rod Petrie has presided over the rapid passing of former Hibs stalwarts John Collins who walked out, Mixu Patalainen and John Hughes. Searching questions have been asked of Petrie, his board and their selection process which has allowed this state of affairs to occur. I for one am still questioning that process and the confines with which the men in charge at The Holy Ground impose upon it.
For many months Hibs have been a shambles on the pitch, in stark contrast to the fantastic advances in the infrastructure of the club. Of the latter, the superb new East Stand and outstanding training centre development at East Mains indicate striking progress for the club and I would be one of the first to agree how important these projects were for Hibernian FC’s future and to give credit.
Hibs are not a rich club by any means but financial prudence has allowed these developments to happen. It will be said in fairness that the bank balance in Leith is far healthier than probably most professional clubs in the UK. For a club with the modest attendance figures of the men from the Capital that is certainly a great achievement, but at what price?
There has to be balance and I feel that the club have not achieved this. For several years the fans have had to stand and watch many, many excellent players being sold off. This in isolation is not the fault of the board as modern footballers have a lot more say about where they ply their trade and Hibs cannot necessarily afford to pay them the salary they can demand elsewhere due to the fiscal framework at Easter Road. A more relevant criticism for me is that none or very little of the funds raised from selling excellent player after excellent player appear to be redirected back towards acquiring new quality replacements to the squad.
The same thinking appears to be prevalent when choosing and dealing with new managers. Let’s make no mistake, this position is absolutely pivotal to any football club, it’s the most important individual the club has and I don’t feel that Hibs appear to recognise this judging by their various managerial appointments. There is no significant investment in an individual that could potentially drag the club out of the reach of the rest of the also-rans of Scottish football. It would take bravery, boldness and imaginative thinking for that to happen and the sad thing is that the very innovatory influences the club has been famed for through its 135-year history no longer exist. Rod Petrie is an inveterate accountant and whilst his three-column approach to running a football club is admirable in some ways, his occupancy at Easter Road is not characterised by imagination or calculated risk-taking. His leadership is that of an artisan, not an artist, a Roundhead, not a Cavalier. Make your own mind up which is the better ‘fit’ in Leith.
Two managers ago, I felt Hibernian fell lucky in appointing John Collins, the former classy and dedicated Scotland midfielder. Collins splits opinion amongst fans radically with the chief criticism being of his mediocre signings. My answer to that is that again, millions of pounds worth of talent was sold from under him. Fair enough, it had to be, but it’s apparent that peanuts were given back to him to replace those players and guess what? The inevitable happened in spite of Collins insistence on discipline, dedication and trying to play the game the way it should be played. His forward thinking ideas were diamonds in a rough sea of mediocrity. The well-documented player revolt against his methods was seen to be most feebly backed by the board and Collins, realising he was kicking against the sticks at Easter Road gave in to the small-minded and penny-pinching thinking at the club and unexpectedly walked. A sad day in my view and a real opportunity lost.
Former Hibs boss, John Collins and Chairman, Rod Petrie
I digress but these events lead us to here via the generally poor eras under Paatelainen and Hughes. No doubt, two more ‘bargain basement’ signings but nevertheless easy to appease the fans with due to their past Hibs associations. On October 19, Season 2010/11, former Northampton and Nottingham Forest manager and Newcastle number two, Colin Calderwood has appeared abruptly over the horizon and into a 5.15pm press conference in which Petrie is, as usual, routinely and proudly introducing his new man, extolling his virtues and generally looking very pleased with himself. I’m not happy though, not in the least.
For the majority of the vacant period at Easter Road, Steve Clarke ex-West Ham and Chelsea coach has been touted as an outstanding favourite for the job. Any new appointment is something of a lottery but here I saw some real forward thinking by Petrie and co. at long last if it were to be true. Clarke has operated at a very high level with some success and his reputation would have been bound to demand a lot of respect from an unruly and ill-disciplined group of Hibs players.
As always there have been many rumours and this time one of the more colourful has been of an apparent offer to Clarke being somehow demoted financially after the event. I have to say I don’t find it difficult to believe this story and others similar. Former manager Mixu recently trod his way carefully through a newspaper interview in which he fairly tactfully criticised the Hibs board for their stingy, penny-pinching attitude during his tenure which game him a very slim chance of success. Mixu is a man very much with Hibs at heart and I for one believe him. I believe that Hibs under the iron rule of former accountant and full-time tightwad Petrie have yet again gone for a cheaper option in picking Calderwood. This is in spite of alternative tales of large compensation payments to Calderwood’s former employers, Newcastle United.
I live in Nottingham and whilst I am fairly ambivalent about Nottingham Forest Football Club in general, it’s difficult for one who is even remotely interested in the game to avoid the well-publicised happenings at the City Ground on a daily basis. I also have several friends and acquaintances who have been fans of the club for a very long time and whose knowledge and opinions I respect. I don’t personally know of one single Forest supporter who rated Colin Calderwood in his three-year period in Nottingham. Calderwood struggled to get a team with relatively huge crowds and an extremely wealthy owner up into the Championship and his dour, defensive methods drove Forest fans to distraction at times.
The Forest berth was an enviable position set up for any half-decent manager to do well. Crucially, in some ways the fans on Trentside and in Leith have something in common, in that they both value seeing their team entertain. A proportion of the two fan bases are used to having a team that tries to play the game on the ground and with an expansive outlook that sends people home thinking that they have at least seen a spectacle worth turning up for on a cold winter’s day, win, lose or draw.
Although very well funded, Calderwood was all at sea with Forest in the Championship. Not only was the football enough to make one’s eyes bleed, his forays into the transfer market were much criticised. Down amongst the dead men of the Championship, the inevitable parting of the ways happened after some extremely embarrassing and humiliating defeats against much ‘lesser’ opposition. Forest’s support were generally speaking, mightily relieved.
Scottish football as we know is dominated by the ‘Auld Firm’ of Rangers and Celtic with their huge followings and revenue streams. Each season fans, media and managers talk of ‘splitting the old firm’ but this never gets any closer, especially in this era of each team playing the others four times per season in the Scottish Premier League. Usually the Glasgow teams’ points tallies are hugely ahead of the rest come May with the other clubs fighting manfully over the spoils and maybe a good cup run. My point is that whilst this state of affairs is apparent, good entertaining football is a must. Clubs like Hibs are sadly not going to win the SPL as things stand so there has to be something else, another element, and for me that means pleasing the fans and sending them home happy and entertained after a game.
We all want to win primarily of course and I hear the ‘good football versus winning’ debate many a time. This has reared its head again with Hibs’ new defensive but ‘organised’ manager. My simple answer to this is that the two have never been mutually exclusive, quite the opposite in fact with good football most often being followed by similar results. This is one of the reasons I’m so disappointed in the appointment of Colin Calderwood at my club, that and the apparent sizeable and glaring lack of ambition. For a long-time Hibs fan it is all so predictable.
Undoubtedly Calderwood will preside over an early upturn in results as many new managers tend to. Considering how dire things have been at Easter Road under the last appointment I’d suggest that would not be too difficult. It’s a slight baptism of fire that the fixture list initially presents Calderwood with in away games against Aberdeen and Dundee United, followed by Hearts at Easter Road and a trip to Ibrox to face league leaders, Rangers. I’d expect to see results turn somewhat. Beyond that, who knows? The longer term may not be fun though and it certainly won’t be pretty.