Alan Stubbs doesn’t mind a player with a few character flaws because he says he used to be a bit of a rogue himself.
The Hibernian head coach has an important game at Falkirk this afternoon which could take them clear of their hosts into second place but with the rest of the season in mind, he is looking forward to the prospect of welcoming Anthony Stokes into his Championship squad, should the loan deal with Celtic go through as expected. In the past, the Irish striker has attracted unwelcome headlines and courted controversy but the Easter Road boss believes he can get the best out of him, helping Hibs back to the top flight and possibly earning Stokes an international recall in the process.
Despite the fact Stokes has not featured in a first team game since August and has long been deemed surplus to requirements at Celtic, Stubbs thinks the player who netted 24 times in 47 games during his last stint in Leith could prove the difference in Hibernian’s push for promotion.
Acknowledging some would be scared away by the negative perceptions of Stokes, he says he prefers to follow his own gut feeling rather than rely on condemnation by committee.
“I have no problem with him and, if it [the loan deal] does come off, I’m actually looking forward to working with him. I’m not afraid to work with someone who has a bit of personality. Probably because I was a rogue myself as a lad. I like the challenge. That’s if it does prove a challenge.
“At the end of the day everybody has feelings and everybody is a human being and it’s how you treat them. I think the biggest thing is that I respect the players 100 per cent.”
Liam Henderson, another player on loan from Celtic, says that is something Stokes will respond to.
“I think it would suit him here, it’s the type of football that I know Stokesy would enjoy. It’s passing, movement, wee flicks here and there and if he came here I think he would thoroughly enjoy it.”
Stubbs admits he has enlisted the help of some of his players, asking them to have a wee word in the ear of their striking target, but Henderson says that even apart from the attraction of big games, a compelling title race and the ongoing interest in both domestic cup competitions, it has not been difficult to talk up the club and the coaches Stokes would be coming to.
“I can’t speak highly enough of the manager, he’s probably the best I’ve worked under in my short career so far. He’s trusted me a lot. He’s played me week in, week out and I’m trying to repay him for the faith he’s shown in me and if Stokesy came he would do exactly the same thing.”
Steering players back on to the straight and narrow and getting the best from them is something of a Stubbs speciality. Piecing together a squad that has lost just one game in the last 20, he says that knack comes from a childhood where he learned about respect and self-preservation.
“Let’s just say, we all have our moments,” says the head coach with a knowing grin. “I was brought up in a rough area. We had to look after ourselves or we wouldn’t have had any sweets, they’d be taken off us! In football, it will always be dog eat dog and it’s harder to fly under the radar now. There were no camera phones in my day, so you could go and have a drink. Now you have to be so careful and live your life right.”
Stubbs’ parents were his guiding lights, especially his dad, Ron. “He was the big influence on me. I had managers who were good influences but he was the one I was scared of, in a good way. With some dads you’d get a clip around the ear. Mine just had a roar! I was like a little dog that would just crawl into the corner. He was good with me and honest but I think I’m a better man-manager than him. I feel as if I understand a group of people more than individuals.
“We all have our flaws. Unfortunately none of us is perfect. It’s how you work with each player. You have to give and take. I’ve had it with a couple of players. Sometimes I wanted to throttle them but if I did then they’d win. So sometimes it’s good to take a step back and punch a wall! But they never see that side to me. I prefer to prevent rather than create situations, no matter how hard that can be.
“But, the good players always have quirks. They have done since football started. You do get some who are a little more manageable, some need managed more. Some, like Lewis Stevenson, are a dream – you don’t need to say anything, he is just a pleasure to work with – but there have been others who are not here now that you have to put your arm around and massage their egos and I like that. I don’t want everybody to be the same. I want personalities and when you want personalities you have to be able to deal with situations.”