SOMETHING old or something new? The choice is Leeann Dempster’s as she assesses her shortlist in pursuit of Hibernian’s new manager.
Even this early in Dempster’s time as chief executive, it promises to be a defining moment of her Easter Road tenure as she seeks an appointment which will both rejuvenate a wretchedly underperforming team and re-engage deeply disaffected supporters.
Two of the names on her list tick very different boxes. Mark Venus would represent a return to a fairly recent past which is recalled with considerable affection by Hibs fans, while Alan Stubbs would constitute a bold step in a fresh direction.
The emergence of Venus as a candidate has not come as a surprise. The 47-year-old was assistant to Tony Mowbray at Easter Road from 2004 to 2006, a spell when Hibs produced some of their most attractive football for many years and achieved back-to-back top- four finishes in the league for the first time since the halcyon days of Eddie Turnbull.
Venus, who once described himself as “revolution” to Mowbray’s “evolution” in assessing the chemistry of their partnership, continued the double act with his more senior colleague with varying degrees of success at West Bromwich Albion, Celtic and Middlesbrough.
“We’re our own people but we want the same thing from our football teams, how we play, and the same thing from our players,” Venus once observed. “How we get there is a little bit different. Tony can be evolution and I can be a bit revolution but it marries itself together quite well. It’s a good relationship.
“I would like to think I have strong opinions on teams and on footballers. I would like to think I share my opinions with the gaffer. You try to give information and opinions to the manager and it’s then up to him what he does with it.
“I am my own man, basically I say what I feel and, hopefully, that’s to the benefit of the football club. The final word is always with the gaffer, he’s the one that picks the team, I just give him my opinions and feelings.”
Their relationship was severed last October when Mowbray was sacked by Middlesbrough following a dismal run of results in the English Championship. Although ’Boro chairman Steve Gibson indicated Venus would be a contender for the vacancy, after just three games in caretaker charge he lost out to Aitor Karanka for the job.
Since then, Venus has reportedly applied for vacancies at both Shrewsbury Town and Northampton Town without success as he looks to become a manager in his own right for the first time.
His previous experience of Hibs and familiarity with the expectations surrounding the club would be an obvious benefit to Venus. On the flipside, there are plenty of examples of those involved in long-standing managerial double acts flopping when they go their own way. In that sense, there would still be a considerable element of risk attached to the appointment of Venus.
The same could be said of Stubbs, of course, given that the 42-year-old former Celtic defender has never been involved in coaching or management at first-team level. Since being appointed to the backroom staff at Everton by David Moyes six years ago, initially as assistant reserve team boss, Stubbs has become a highly-regarded member of the set-up at Goodison Park.
He was interviewed for the managerial vacancy last year, following Moyes’ departure to Manchester United, and remained on the staff as under-21 coach despite losing out to Roberto Martinez. Stubbs made it clear in a recent interview that he nurses a serious ambition to make his own mark in senior management.
“I have always wanted to be a manager and I still do,” said Stubbs. “But I had to prove to myself that I could coach first of all. I’ve been through all my badges and believe I’m a good coach, not a brilliant coach. But I believe I will become a very good manager and be able to influence players.
“The one thing I didn’t want to do when I hung up my boots was jump into management. Players can be very naive and we think it’s a conveyor belt that runs smoothly from playing into management. It’s not.
“I remember Sir Alex Ferguson saying that before you could become a good manager you had to become a good coach. I took that on board. My first job has to be the right one. I don’t want my first job to be my last.”
Stubbs is also refreshingly clear when asked about his footballing philosophy and appears to have little time for the kind of idealism which has often perhaps clouded the issue when it comes to Hibs managers sending out teams to play in the so-called ‘Hibs way’.
“I know the style I want to play,” observed Stubbs. “It’s quite simple – just win. Nowadays we can get too wrapped up in philosophies and formations. Yes, you have to touch on it but there is no point in having a philosophy if you don’t win games.
“It’s different at under-21 level because we are developing players but we also want them to win and go on to be winners.
“Losers don’t play at the highest level. It’s the same with managers.”