THE question is simple. Is Hibernian centre back Paul Hanlon generally overrated or underrated as a footballer by his peers, coaches, fans and the media?
There’s no doubt that Hanlon has failed to live up to the initial hype, but he’s had the ignominy of playing for a team which has been lambasted from all angles because of its constant underachievement. Is Hanlon at fault for that, or is he an innocent bystander who’s been caught in the cross-fire?
The guys at The Terrace Scottish Football Podcast answer that question.
Hibs had already nestled into a terminal decline by the time Paul Hanlon picked up a season-ending knee injury in March, so it would be daft to cite his absence as a major factor in their ultimate relegation. That they could have used a fully fit Hanlon in those crunch matches though, is something of an understatement - their longest winless run all season came immediately after his knee knack.
He certainly showed signs of thriving under Butcher prior to the injury and has never really looked out of place among Premiership company. At his best he seems to stroll through matches with effortless composure, a defensive trait as enviable as it is rare in this country. That is countered though with a concerning tendency to be outmuscled, most notably when Nadir Ciftci eased him off the ball to score at Easter Road last season. That in particular is something he would be well served to address when he returns to the top flight, which he undoubtedly will.
When a player has been at a club as long as he has, even at the relatively young age of 24, he will have been through plenty of peaks and troughs, but a lack of competition isn’t the only reason he’s held down a starting berth for over four years.
Is he overrated or underrated? His stock has arguably not been lower, given that he’s now a Championship centre-half, but he’s emerged from a disastrous season with his reputation largely unscathed. He’s someone I’ve always thought highly of, and I’d say that a lot of the good work he has been responsible has been undermined by the tumult that often envelops him and many others at Hibs, particularly in the last 12 months.
At the age of 24 Hanlon has notched up more than 200 appearances for Hibernian, St Johnstone and Scotland’s Under-21, but in recent years there has never been a sign of the player kicking on and a) breaking into the Scotland team, or b) getting a move away that would be deemed a step up, even if Hibs have been incompetent for four years now - 2010 being the last time they made the top six.
Throughout Hibs’ downward spiral Hanlon has been a regular starter. He made 16 starts in the 2009-2010 campaign before returns of 33, 35, 35 and 28 starts in the league since then. What I am trying to get to is that despite his early promise Hanlon has stagnated at Hibs. He is almost synonymous with the club’s failures.
Hanlon is not your typical Scottish centre back; he is more comfortable anticipating attacking moves and with the ball at his feet than he is when faced with a physical centre forward. It is hard to point out a game, especially an Edinburgh derby, where he has been dominant. He is not the combative type, he almost appears to be too nice to be so.
A move away from Hibs would arguably be the best for all parties considering he still has at least 10 years of football ahead of him and he has gained invaluable experience already. If I was in his position I would be approaching my agent to angle me a move to mainland Europe or even the MLS because I believe staying in Scotland will only see his downward trajectory continue.
I take exception to John’s claim. In my opinion, if Paul Hanlon hadn’t suffered a knee injury then Hibernian would still be a Premiership club.
It’s a bold statement, but having watched Hanlon since his debut in 2008, I feel that he has the game management that was severely lacking at the heart of the Hibs defence last season. Too many times towards the end of the season, Hibs fans watched Ryan McGivern and Michael Nelson play costly wayward passes that Hanlon simply would not have made.
A testament to Hanlon’s potential has been the number of games he played at under 21s. Even when he struggled to find form or a place in the starting XI at Easter Road, he was always named in Billy Stark’s squads.
Hanlon’s strengths are reading the game well and positioning himself so he doesn’t have to make the last ditch challenges so beloved of many SPFL players. Undoubtedly he has weaknesses in his game, most notably his lack of strength which has been mentioned before.
Hanlon is now Hibs’ second longest serving player. If he can work on his physicality and develop leadership qualities, then the 24 year old (remarkable to think he is still that young) can set-up a level. I echo Joel’s sentiments that perhaps a move to the continent might suit his play more than on these isles.
Duncan writes about the PR and marketing problems in Scottish football for The Terrace site and is a supporter of both Hibs and Elgin. Read more on his thoughts on Twitter.
The centre-back began to establish himself as a regular during the 2009/10 season and has been one of the first names on the Hibernian team sheet since. He won the club’s Player of the Year Award recently, captained his side at the age of twenty-one and fulfilled the same duty for his national side at under-19 and under-21 level. All of which would suggest that he has gained the recognition he has deserved. The truth is that Paul Hanlon hasn’t quite realised the potential he displayed early in his career. English Premier League interest waned a while ago and he has since failed to make the step up to full international level in what is, perhaps, the national side’s weakest position.
So why hasn’t he realised his potential? Sporadic spells of turmoil off as well as on the field, related but not limited to Hibernian’s managerial changes, has seen a whole raft of promising youngsters fail to build upon early promise at Easter Road in recent years. That is not to mention the many senior players that have failed at Hibernian yet succeeded elsewhere. David Wotherspoon is an example of both, coming through the youth ranks and failing to settle as a first team regular before leaving for St. Johnstone where he won the Scottish Cup.
I’m going to give Hanlon the benefit of the doubt and say that he’s a better player than his team have made him look for the last three seasons and that he would have progressed further had he moved on by now.
It’s been unanimously decided that his career should have progressed further than it has so far, but that doesn’t necessarily make him a bad player. Hanlon has been a victim of circumstance. With their weaknesses exposed and talents clouded by a sub-par supporting cast, decent players on poor teams are often underrated. And Hibs were worse than poor throughout Hanlon’s development.
Even if they don’t compete for the title this year, Hibs should thrive in the Scottish Championship. The level isn’t good enough to single Hanlon out as a potential star once more, but it could be enough to reinstall some momentum into his career.
Final verdict: Underrated
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