Like many yesterday, Alan Stubbs was expressing gratitude for the Commonwealth Games.
However, his reasons for saluting the 11 days of sport that kept Scotland and elsewhere enraptured were self-serving. They had little to do with lifting the mood of a nation.
Of course, that’s not to say Stubbs is unhappy that such benefits will be felt in the city where he once lived. But it doesn’t concern him. He is interested only in the welfare of Hibernian and can’t even be drawn on the personal significance of his return tonight to Ibrox, where he is sure to receive a hot reception after enjoying several great battles there as a player with Celtic.
“I’ve had a lot of people asking what it’s going to be for me, but it’s not about me [tonight], it really isn’t,” he stressed, as Hibs prepare to meet Rangers in their rescheduled Petrofac Training Cup tie this evening. “It’s about Hibernian Football Club going to Ibrox to try and win the game.”
According to Stubbs, Hibs have been helped to this end by being granted a little more preparation time than might otherwise have been the case. Were it not for the Commonwealth Games then they would have been scheduled to play Rangers ten days ago, when Stubbs admits his side would not have been ready.
Although only four new players have arrived during the summer, a more profound overhaul has been necessary at a club over which a severe depression had descended. Among the new manager’s first tasks has been to reinvigorate those players who have remained from last season, including those who were informed they were free to leave by the previous manager, Terry Butcher. Perhaps surprisingly, Liam Craig was one of those advised to look for another club. However, one of Stubbs’ first decisions after being appointed in June was to reappoint Craig as captain, and the midfielder yesterday outlined what effect the new manager has had.
“I think if you speak to anyone the atmosphere has totally changed,” he said. “The manager has come in and spoken to the players and told us what he wants to do. And he has just lifted the place, along with assistants John [Doolan] and Taff [Andy Holden].
“We had to pick ourselves up as well but it helps when you have a manager who does what he has done.
“Now it is up to the manager and the players together to pick the fans up. This is a great opportunity for us to show them that this is a different team to last year, and a team that wants to be more inventive than we were last year.”
This hasn’t happened overnight, which is why Stubbs was grateful for Ibrox being out of action at the end of last month, when this tie would have been played were it not for the Games rugby sevens being staged at Rangers’ ground.
Considering that the new league season kicks-off on Saturday, this might not normally have suited a manager. But Stubbs is glad of the delay, which meant he has had further chance to impose his philosophy on the team in friendly matches.
The return to action might still have come too soon, certainly for new signing Scott Allan and striker Jason Cummings, both of whom Stubbs described as being short of match fitness. “Scott Allan isn’t at the level I’d like him to be,” said Stubbs. “But every day is a bonus and he’s doing extra work each day to try and get up to fitness as quickly as possible. Jason Cummings is in a similar position.”
But Stubbs is grateful that Hibs were handed more opportunity to rehearse before opening night. “I think getting the extra time to prepare has been perfect for us,” he said. “I’m glad the Commonwealth Games were in Glasgow and it’s given us another ten days to prepare.
“It’s given us a chance to see other teams more,” he added, with reference to the fact he, too, is coming in cold, having little expertise on what to expect in Scotland’s second tier. He knows something of Rangers, however, and this knowledge was supplemented by a trip to see the Ibrox side slip to defeat against Derby County at the weekend.
“I picked up things from my trip at the weekend but I’ve got to say Derby are a very good team,” said Stubbs. “You can sometimes read too much into it. It’s always interesting, no matter what game you go to.”
Stubbs welcomed an old teammate to East Mains yesterday in Malky Mackay. His former Celtic central defensive colleague is out of work after being sacked by Cardiff City last season. “He’s on a trip to Edinburgh and Glasgow with his family, he said my training session was awesome,” smiled Stubbs. He knows that it is not the judgment of old pals he will need to worry about as he prepares to face his first true test as a manager.