Hibs must resist urge to fall back on past heroes

Leigh Griffiths is the subject of interest from former club Hibs. Picture: PA
Leigh Griffiths is the subject of interest from former club Hibs. Picture: PA
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IT IS easy to see why the emergency- loan signing of Leigh Griffiths appeals to Hibernian. The Celtic and Scotland striker is a very gifted player – one who used to play for Hibs, and still supports Hibs – so he would be sure to make a difference. And Heaven knows Hibs need someone to make a difference right now.

One look at the league table shows the severity of the plight they’re in. Remember when they spent the second half of last season struggling in vain to stay away from that second-bottom spot in the SPL? Such a lofty position is something they can only dream about at present.

Second-bottom of the Championship is where Alan Stubbs’ team are at the moment, and although a win at Ibrox tonight would take them up to fifth, there is no denying that their early-season displays have been poor.

One of the few bright spots of their first few games was the form of striker Farid El Alagui. Since his injury, Dominique Malonga has come in and scored a few goals, but there is no denying that Griffiths is an altogether better finisher.

So, provided they can reach agreement with Celtic about his wages, signing Griffiths on a three-month loan – perhaps with the prospect of something longer-lasting in January – makes sense to Hibs. And the move would be just as enticing to the player himself.

The 24-year-old’s heart is at Easter Road. His head, as well as his natural affection for playing football, tells him that he needs to play regularly at this stage of his career. And Ronny Deila, for all his protestations that Griffiths is very much part of his plans, is not playing him regularly.

So in a way it’s a natural fit. A club that needs a striker, a striker who needs to play, a set of fans who rightly hail him as one of their own: it all falls into place, doesn’t it?

Well, yes it does, which is why, although it has not happened yet, it could still happen this week or next or the one after or sometime soon anyway. The dream will not die, as a certain politician said recently, albeit in a different context. And if it does happen, Griffiths will score some goals – certainly enough to steer Hibs clear of the current hypothetical threat of relegation to Division One, and possibly enough to propel them into the play-offs for the Premiership.

But there is something a little familiar, is there not, in Hibs’ hankering after one of their players from the recent past. And something a little sad about Griffiths’ homing instinct.

History repeats itself, first as tragedy, second as farce, Karl Marx said – probably not specifically referring to Garry O’Connor’s second spell at Easter Road, which ended with his chucking his Scottish Cup loser’s medal away, but it’s still a quote worth bearing in mind.

Derek Riordan’s return to Hibs was underwhelming in comparison to his first spell, as were those of several others. And it’s probably best not to get started on the former players who have managed the club. At an annual general meeting a few years ago, club chairman Rod Petrie – normally such an assiduous cultivator of his own image as a no-nonsense negotiator – tried to portray himself as a rehabilitator of failing footballers. Troubled souls deserved a second chance, he said in so many words, referring to the likes of Riordan and O’Connor.

So the club has a bit of a track record, coming from the top, of welcoming back its wayward sons. And those wayward sons have a track record of not doing much upon their return – or at least, certainly not advancing their careers, for all that Riordan probably made a few quid from his subsequent sojourn in China, where he memorably claimed he was made to eat chicken fried rice “and other no’ right stuff”. Griffiths should be aware of that track record. He should know that, if he does go back to Easter Road, there is a real risk that his career will stall. On the other hand, if he avoids self-pity and instead knuckles down at Celtic, he will have given himself the best possible chance of continuing to improve as a player.

Deila is a composed and rational man, as far removed from the stereotype of a tyrannical manager as it is possible to be. His assistant John Collins clearly has a very different outlook on life from Griffiths, but one that the striker would do well to learn from if he is at all serious about improving himself.

Hibs could argue that Griffiths will hardly get better as a player if he is not allowed to play, but you have to wonder if his game will really be served by the chance to bang in goals against the likes of Cowdenbeath and Dumbarton. And, more fundamentally, you have to question the prolonged focus on this one player. Yes, Hibs’ predicament is particularly acute just now, and will be all the more so should they lose to Rangers. But the reality is that they are in a malaise which has been years in the making – a malaise which appears to get worse no matter who is the manager, and no matter the pedigree of the players he brings in.

Petrie may be going nowhere fast, for all that a significant proportion of Hibs supporters would love to see the back of him. Even so, it is apparent that, on the football side at least, Hibs need to make a clean break with some of the habits of recent years that have contributed to their slow decline, including that penchant for re-signing players.

Theirs is a complex ailment with a variety of sickly symptoms. Expecting Leigh Griffiths to be the answer to that ailment is a bit like hoping a smear of Vaseline will cure an axe wound.