DECISIONS that are quick and easy can still be agonising. Maurice Malpas’s move to Hibernian is a case in point.
He knew in his heart he wanted to leave Inverness Caledonian Thistle and head south as assistant manager to Terry Butcher, but that knowledge did not make the actual departure any easier.
There were the ties that the two had made with the club. The individual players they had signed and helped to thrive. The team they had taken to second in the table and the semi-finals of the League Cup. For Malpas there was also the lure of management, of being his own boss. He had tried it before, unsuccessfully, without Butcher. This time, with so much more experience and a squad he knew so well, could he make it work?
Those were some of the factors that tempted him to stay at Inverness. But, when club chairman Kenny Cameron offered him the top job, he needed no lengthy deliberations. Flattered, he nonetheless declined.
Malpas was professional and self-disciplined during the eight days of negotiations, above all on Saturday when, with Butcher watching on from the stand, he took the Caley Thistle team as they beat Hibs 2-0. Addressing the press after the game he gave nothing away, discussing the pros and cons of both courses of action open to them. By then, barring a late collapse of Butcher’s own talks with Hibs, Malpas knew he would be on the move.
On Tuesday, after formally being introduced by chairman Rod Petrie as Hibs’ new No 2, Malpas explained how hard it had been to deal with the situation. “The uncertainty of last week was difficult for me,” he said. “I didn’t know what was happening. Terry was in discussions from Wednesday but I didn’t know if I was going or not, whether I would get a chance to go, or whether I would get a chance to be manager if I didn’t.
“It was a sleepless week for me, an uncomfortable week, and, when they still hadn’t agreed the compensation, Kenny Cameron came to my house and asked me [to be manager]. We had a fantastic discussion about it but, when I came to the club with Terry, we always said we would leave together, whether that was getting kicked out together or moving together. As soon as he said it was done and dusted, it was an easy decision for me.
“I want to be at a club that’s got a chance to win trophies. Caley Thistle have got a great chance this season, but I just felt the potential here is far greater.
“I’m a football guy who likes being on the training field and the facilities here are unbelievable. And it’s not anything to do with money. It’s about the things here that Caley couldn’t give me. That’s why, as soon as Terry asked me, I said yes.
“I had five great years there and I thoroughly enjoyed them. The chairman and the board have been fantastic and helped us every time we asked for something. It’s like a family there.
“The chairman asked straight out if I wanted to be manager and virtually straight away I said ‘no’. I had been thinking about it, but I just felt that was the right decision. It was my gut feeling.
“The opportunity to come here was far greater than my desire to be a No 1 again. The potential here appeals to me. The facilities excite me too. Some mornings up at Fort George [Inverness’s training ground] you’re lifting goals and your hands would stick to the goalposts. I walked out my office this morning on to a training ground and I hadn’t done that in 20 years of coaching. That might seem simple and trivial, but it’s a massive thing to me.”
Butcher and Malpas have complementary strengths as a management duo and, meeting them together, it’s easy to see why they work so well as a team. Butcher is the light-hearted one, ebullient and given to flights of fancy, Malpas more serious and even-tempered. So what does the assistant make of the main man? And what should the Hibs players expect?
“He’s passionate – a lunatic at times but that’s just the passion,” said Malpas. “He demands from players what he demands from himself – give it your lot.
“He can accept people losing if they’re giving everything. You can’t demand a player plays well every week, but we can demand they work hard. He’s got a great drive and desire. Sometimes you come in in the morning and he just drives you on. He’s a breath of fresh air.
“We work well together and enjoy that. He’s good at what he’s good at, I’m good at what I’m good at and the two of us seem to gel. We have a ball. Everyone wants to enjoy their work and we certainly do that.”
They are also effective – at least, that’s the aim. Malpas is aware of the debate within the Hibs support in recent years about the style of football their team should adopt but, as far as he is concerned, there is no point in aesthetic pleasure for its own sake. Malpas said: “I hear people saying you’ve got to play the Hibs way. For me it’s about playing to win. Jim McLean was the first person to drum into us about doing this or that but you had to be a winner. You had to win the game, otherwise everything else was a waste of time. Why play well but get beat?
“That’s the mentality we’ve got to get into the fans, the players – it’s all about winning. There will be days when we’re flying and it’s great to watch. And there will be days when it’s absolute drivel but we still expect to win. That’s the mindset.”
And if Malpas ever hears one of the squad voicing a reluctance to adopt such a mindset, deciding how to act will be quick and easy, this time involving no agonising at all.
“If I hear any player say they can’t do it, then they’ll get a size eight boot up the backside.”