Alan Stubbs has had to make some sweeping changes at Easter Road, finds Andrew Smith
ALAN Stubbs can’t make any predictions about his first derby experience as Hibernian manager that awaits at Tynecastle this afternoon. Except maybe one. “I’m hoping that it will be pivotal in the direction we go. I’ve got to say, if it doesn’t go our way, it’s not going to be pivotal. If it does, it will be,” the Englishman joked.
Stubbs, though, is willing to be seriously unequivocal in one assessment – where the Leith club are compared to his arrival seven weeks ago. He offers up a judgment that can only be considered a denunciation of the six-month Terry Butcher reign, and perhaps also of the earlier Pat Fenlon era.
“From day one to today, it’s a million per cent better. From when I came in to where we are now is an unbelievable change, it really is. People don’t realise what we’ve had to change over the last eight weeks, in such a short space of time. I’m not sitting here blowing smoke up my own backside but the club – Leeann [Dempster, chief executive], George [Craig] general manager, myself, the players, the staff in here – have done an incredible amount to try and get us to where we are.
“When I came in we had 14 players, we had five young players who had been offered a contract and were then suddenly told they didn’t have that contract.
“We had no physio, no fitness coach, no sports science involved. I had no assistant, no first-team coach, there was a scout/goalkeeping coach [Steve Marsella] – I don’t know how that works but that was what was in place. So that was just some of the things we had to change.
“Now we have a physio department all set up, we have two sports science/fitness coaches in. We have a first-team coach, I have an assistant. We have a recruitment department in place which will look after players from the first team all the way down. With everything that comes with relegation people’s income gets affected.
“And because of all that cost-cutting we have been able to put in place a structure which will help the club make huge steps forward. We can’t be scouting players on the back of a Wikipeida page and one individual’s opinion. We need to have background checks, we need to know the player’s medical history.
“We need to see them at least six to eight times and there was none of that in place, none of it whatsoever. At times it was as if it was done off the cuff. So that’s what we have had to do and as well as that I have had to look to bring in players and balance the squad. So it has been testing but, I have got to say, it has been really enjoyable.” With the club the subject of a failed buy-out last week that was bemoaned by a Hibs’ support with no confidence in the stewardship of owner Tom Farmer and chairman Rod Petrie, Stubbs could also offer proof that the reshaping of the club following demotion to the Championship extends to the areas they have demanded.
Asked if he spoke to Petrie regularly, a defensive Stubbs’ initially questioned the “relevance” of such an enquiry. When it was explained the question was put because in his pre-Dempster days as chief executive Petrie was very much hands-on and in daily contact with his managers, Stubbs relaxed and gave an answer that ought to assuage some fans’ fears.
“I say hello to him and we have passed each other in the corridor and stuff like that,” he said.
“I speak to Leeann now, she is my point of contact. I speak to her whenever we are looking at the day-to-day running of the club. If it’s a football matter I’ll speak with Leeann and George. But, yes, I see Rod, but the decisions I make will be with Leeann and George.”
Stubbs needs supporters as well as staff onside. Despite the outcome, against Rangers in the Petrofac Training Cup, he derived a buy-in performance from his ten-man side. Last week, he had a buy-in result, with the 2-1 home win over Livingston. Today, he needs a win that would allow Hibs fans to really buy in to his construction work.
“That would be a big step towards making the fans believe in what we are doing, but it wouldn’t be an end result,” he said.
“It is going to be a building process. I’m hoping it doesn’t but it may take 12 games. I’m hoping it doesn’t. I’m hoping in two, three, four games we can get really positive results and the fans really see what we’re trying to do. They’re going to play a really big part in our season, the fans, whether they like it or not.
“We’ve tried to engage with the fans massively compared to what has happened over the last few seasons. We know there’s been a breakdown in communications between the club, the community, the players and the supporters, and that needs to be resurrected and built again.
“We’re not soft. Leeann and George are doing a great job in trying to put the wrongs right but unfortunately it’s not going to happen in a week. It may take a couple of months, but the season is over nine months, not one week, and that’s what we’ll be gauging ourselves on.”
When it comes to gauging himself, Hull City on-loan keeper Mark Oxley will not do so on his efforts last weekend when he became a rarity in his trade by scoring with a kick-out against Livingston. The 23-year-old came north hoping to gain exposure. With almost two million hits on Youtube for his goal, he has certainly succeeded in that aim. “That wasn’t really the exposure that I was planning, but it helps. Anything like that I’ll take.
“I’ve been getting hammered by the boys for my celebration but it doesn’t happen too often so I’m not bothered. I’ll take as much joy out of making a great save against Hearts, than I did scoring the goal. It’s gone now and I’m fully focused on the derby. I definitely don’t want to just be remembered as the Hibs keeper who scored a goal. In fact, if you offered me a clean sheet three times over a goal, I’d take the clean sheet every time. That tells you more about a goalkeeper than the odd thing like a goal. That happens once in a blue moon.”
Oxley confesses to being surprised at the quality of player he has encountered north of the Border. “I’ve played in League One and Two in England and there were a lot of teams who played long-ball football.
“So far I’ve not had too much of that here. It’s just me when I’m trying to score… I’m bringing it up to Scotland.”