WHEN an angelic touch and an impish sense of humour are combined in the one player, it can be tough for a manager to know how exactly to handle him. And certainly, dealing with Jason Cummings is one of the most delicate tasks that Alan Stubbs has as Hibernian manager – but it is also, as Stubbs himself made plain yesterday, one of the most enjoyable.
The 19-year-old striker credited himself with having “the touch of an angel” after scoring two of his team’s goals in their 3-1 win at Ibrox this week – a spot of self-aggrandisement that angered former Hibs player Leigh Griffiths among others. But Stubbs believes there is nothing arrogant about Cummings, and thinks that he just has to ensure that the player’s natural confidence does not become over-confidence.
“I don’t think it’s a bad thing – it’s how you temper that confidence and enthusiasm,” the manager said yesterday. There can be a small line between being confident and being too confident, and he’s on the borderline.
“But not in a malicious way or an arrogant way. It’s just the way he is. He’s in his own little world at times, and it’s Jason’s world. Some of the things he says, he’s completely off the cuff, and sometimes when you’re chatting to him and you get his responses you’re thinking, ‘Is he really listening? Does he know what he’s saying?’ But it’s a harmless type of confidence, whereas some confidence can be perceived as arrogant.
“He’s going to take a lot of confidence from Monday night, but I don’t know how much more confident he can be. He’s an interesting character, to put it lightly. The lads really love his sense of humour, but putting that to one side, he’s got ability, there’s no question about that.
“He’s certainly got ability and we’re just trying to work with him and show him areas of his game he can be an even better player. I think there’s a lot more to come, which from my point of view is very pleasing.
“I think Jason at this moment judges himself purely on goals, which a lot of strikers do. But I judge individuals on performances as well. I think he needs to improve on his all-round game, which he is starting to do, and not from an individual and selfish point of view of scoring goals.”
After Cummings credited himself with that “touch of an angel” in his post-match interview, Celtic striker Griffiths tweeted: “Touch like an angel…Jesus f****** Christ. Do a normal interview, get in changing room then celebrate. #billybigtime.” But Stubbs warned it would be a mistake to try to curb the teenager’s natural enthusiasm.
“You can’t take confidence out of a young lad,” he said. “The one thing is how you temper it, and there’s a time and a place for it. You always want someone with ability to be confident, because if you try and play that down too much you’re taking away something that is an attribute.
“A lot of times in football we say there’s not enough personalities. Then suddenly when we get a personality we want to quieten it down. If that’s what he is and it’s a big part of his game, then great, I’m all for it. You work with it rather than against it.”
While Cummings may have an admirable lack of self-doubt, Stubbs is well aware that he has a long way to go before he can realistically think of himself as the finished article. Having only joined Hibs in the summer of 2013 and initially played for the under-20s, the striker has still only played a little more than 20 matches for the first team. Mistakes, then, will be inevitable, and will not be criticised by the manager, whose main concern is how the player learns from those mistakes.
“As a young player, the one thing you want them to do is keep learning,” said Stubbs. “The more they keep learning, you hope they become a little bit more experienced with it. He’ll still do things that are wrong, it’s inevitable, but it’s important we don’t criticise him too much for doing things wrong. We all make mistakes, not just Jason but all the players, and it’s how they respond to it.
“The ones who improve more than others are the ones who, when they make a mistake, learn from it. They may do it once more, but then they don’t do it again.
“The ones who don’t improve keep making the same mistakes two, three, four, five, six times and it stays with him.”
The odd hyperbolic remark doesn’t worry Stubbs, as long as that line into over-confidence is not crossed. “As long as he keeps doing what he’s doing on the pitch he can say what he wants,” the manager concluded. “Within reason.”