OVER the past decade or more, even when Hibernian were enjoying a spell of good results, there was one obvious flaw in their make-up. They were too soft.
Every new manager at Easter Road knew it, and every new manager did what he could to change it. Pat Fenlon, for example, was painfully aware of the problem, but far from coming close to finding a solution, he provoked a sort of nervous uncertainty in the side that only made matters worse.
Now, at last, according to former midfielder Guillaume Beuzelin, an answer has been found by Terry Butcher. The Frenchman, now the club’s under-15s coach, knows that after a mere handful of games under Butcher the transformation has hardly begun. But he is convinced that the former England captain has at last stopped them being soft touches, and turned them into a team that other clubs will not look forward to playing.
“I would be scared to play against this Hibs team,” Beuzelin said yesterday after making the quarter-final draw for the Trans World Soccer Scottish Youth Cup. “If I was a player, I would not enjoy to play against them. That is a fact.
“And it’s definitely true that this is the first time I have thought that about a Hibs team for a long time. People used to say they were soft – and I would agree with that. Now the mentality has changed completely, so it feels as if they have different players.
“Just as an example, look at the set-pieces. Hibs never scored from set-pieces for a long time. Now they’re scoring from corners and free kicks.
“That’s all about desire and wanting to win the ball. And look at Lewis Stevenson, getting down the wing, beating players and getting crosses in. He was playing right-back under the previous manager. Now he’s in a more natural position on the left wing. He even scored at the weekend. I think he’d only scored once in his entire Hibs career before that – but now he’s getting past players and having shots on goal.
“Having said that, he still had a terrible effort in the second half yesterday. He didn’t make any kind of contact, so he still needs to work on his shooting!”
Having made that jocular criticism of Stevenson, Beuzelin went on to explain that he knew the club still had a long way to go under Butcher.
But, with Hearts’ problems in mind, he insisted that Hibs had now become the dominant force in Edinburgh, and predicted they would continue to grow in stature once the manager has had time to put a more permanent stamp on his team.
“I am thrilled, because it’s a very good time for Hibs. Obviously for the last couple of years, maybe more, we’ve been struggling to get results. But three wins on the bounce makes us all feel very good at the moment.
“I think you can say now that, for the first time in a long time, Hibs are the team in Edinburgh. I was at the League Cup quarter-final when Hibs lost, although they started very well, couldn’t score and conceded a very good goal by Ryan Stevenson.
“Overall, they were the better team that night. Last night, it was the same – but the better team won.
“Terry Butcher has done a tremendous job. It’s about how he is, bringing a lot of charisma to the training centre, the stadium – he gets everyone behind him. You can tell that the players know exactly what they have to do. Every player is disciplined, works hard – it’s all very good.
“I think, when the manager arrived at the club, he had a plan until the transfer window – to sort out the defence. That’s done.
“Now they’re starting to score, I don’t know if he’s going to bring in players. Maybe. Maybe players will leave, as well. But he will be delighted with the first five or six weeks in charge.
“Obviously the type of football is very direct. As a centre mid, you notice that the back four very rarely try to find them with the ball, so it’s very direct.
“But he’s working with the players he’s got. Now maybe he’s going to bring in different players and play a different way – but it’s working right now, it’s very effective.”
Beuzelin believes that, after relatively brief spells under John Collins, Mixu Paatelainen, John Hughes, Colin Calderwood as well as Fenlon, Hibs are now beginning to evoke the Tony Mowbray era.
The style of football may be more direct, but the harmony within the club is the same.
“Yes, I think there are similarities,” said Beuzelin. “Thursday night was the first full house at the new Easter Road.
“Being involved with Hibs myself, I can say there is a good atmosphere around the club. That is what Tony created, as well, even if it was a different style of football. The results are the same and it’s a good time at the moment.
“Obviously you want to win, first. How you win is important for some people. For fans, they want the victories, because we’ve had a bad couple of years, especially in the Scottish Cup. To see the place bouncing like it was last night was just brilliant to see.”