Six months ago, Hibernian Football Club was a laughing stock. Struggling to stay in the Scottish Premier League under the stewardship of then manager Terry Butcher, the club was in financial and organisational disarray. Fast forward to the present day with the club in the Scottish Championship, in and around the club is an air of disbelief at being where they are, but also hope for the future Not only has the position of the club changed, but so has the figurehead. Alan Stubbs, a strong and authoritative man with a history as a stalwart of the defence with clubs like Everton and Celtic, is in the process of turning the club around.
With Hibs being Stubbs’ first managerial position, the pressure has been on since the start; “I’ve had to learn very quickly and do things very quickly, potentially quicker than I would have like to have done” he explains. The challenges of taking over a club going through its lowest ebb in the last 10 years, has forced Stubbs to acclimatise and adapt; “From June 24th to the present day, it feels a long time ago. We’ve had to do a lot in a short space of time. If you look at the timescale, probably 4 months, it feels like I’ve been in the job a lot longer than that”.
It’s not been an easy introduction into the managerial world for Stubbs, with Hibs under fan and financial pressure to sell, as well as the club letting 17 players leave before Stubbs was even through the door. “We, as a club, have had to go through the most troubled patch than any other in the league.” “Relegation, talk of takeovers, previous management telling a lot of players they could leave, that obviously created a lot of unrest.” The form of the club was poor at the start too, winning only 2 of their first 5 games. However, the ex-Everton youth coach has grown into the job, and attributes a more recent upturn in form with the club going 7 games unbeaten, to one thing; time. “Because of what we had to deal with, it just took more time for us to really get to know each other, find the right formula”.
Stubbs’ intelligence and his refreshingly honest personality shone through when asked about a claim he made in June when appointed, that “we get too wrapped up in philosophies and formations”. The claim, a very strong and controversial one to say the least with managers such as Louis van Gaal championing their philosophy at every turn, was quickly put into the context of the results-based life of the Scottish Championship. “At the end of the day, you can make football as difficult as you want, or as easy as you want. What I meant by that is we talk about systems, and philosophies, about them winning games of football. I’d say they play a part in it, but they are not the sole reason or the main reason you win games of football. The reason why you win games of football is more often than not because of 11 players on the pitch, and those 11 players being better than the other 11 players. Whereas sometimes we can look into philosophies and formations and overlapping wing-backs and this and that, and try to say that that’s the way you win games of football”.
So what about managers like Van Gaal and their precious philosophies? Is their confidence misplaced? “No, I think we all have a philosophy as in how we want the team to play. But in the end of the day it’s the players that will make that philosophy work. He will have his beliefs in how the game should be played, that is your philosophy. There’s not a right or a wrong, it’s all about results. If you’ve got a team that’s more direct and they get the ball forward, it may not be as pretty to watch, but if they’re sitting at the top of the league, then it’s working. We all have a philosophy, I want to play football, but I want to win games of football. I don’t want to kick the ball long, don’t want to play a very direct type of football, but I think sometimes you have to be able to do that at certain points in the game. I’ve always wanted to be flexible.”
With the recent news of Hibernian legend Pat Stanton’s appointment as the head of BuyHibs, a fan-backed consortium hoping to buy the club and return the ownership to the fans, Stubbs urged caution. “I think the most important thing in all of these discussions is about what’s best for the football club. It’s all well and good if the fans are trying to take over the club and for it to become a fanbased led club. Fantastic! But it has to be a viable option. It can’t just be a thought process as in ‘we want to own the football club’, but then no foundations that support that opinion. What you don’t want are the people who are running the club now and have structure and money in place and then the fans take over and there isn’t the support structure from underneath not just for the next couple of years, but for the next 50 years.”
When asked about the problems Hibernian has faced concerning fan disillusionment, the solution to the problem that has plagued Hibs for many years was laid out. “I think what the club is trying to do is to bring a more fan-based voice onto the board to try and help with that and cross that bridge with there being no connection. It’s not necessarily going to happen overnight. Because of the situation as of what’s happened last season, that can sometimes cloud your judgement as in what you want to do with the club going forward.”
His hopes for Hibs and his future? “Until someone tells me we can’t mathematically be promoted, then it [promotion] is a realistic aim. I’m obviously ambitious; I want to manage as high as I can. For my first step in management to be able to be sitting here as manager of Hibernian Football Club, I’ve got to say I’m very proud of that. It’s a fantastic club with great history. If I am successful, then it means I am doing something right, and when you are doing something right and you are successful, there are always other people watching. That will be a decision on another day. At this moment in time my only thought and my only focus is on turning the club around and putting it back to where I feel it rightly belongs. A city like Edinburgh should have two teams in the top tier, the fact that we haven’t got two teams in the top tier is wrong and it shouldn’t have happened. It’s not about why it happened, it’s about focusing on what you’re going to do to put it right. There’s no point me going into management if I don’t want to manage the biggest club in England, in Europe, in the World. That is the ultimate aim.”