ALAN Stubbs has admitted he was “a bit surprised” to be voted SPFL Championship Manager of the Month for September – one of two awards to be presented to Hibernian yesterday. Jason Cummings was named SPFL Young Player of the Month, an accolade that Stubbs said was down to a willingness to change his lifestyle after having what he euphemistically called “a good summer”.
Cummings scored twice in Hibs’ 3-1 win at Ibrox last week and claimed the winner in a 3-2 victory over Cowdenbeath, while his team also beat Ross County in the League Cup and lost to Queen of the South in the Championship.
That variable form may have been the cause of Stubbs’s surprise, but he insisted that in any case he would not seek individual credit.
“I don’t know anyone who doesn’t like getting an award, but from my point of view this is for the players and my staff,” he said. “There’s no self-praise from my point of view.
“I knew last week that I was getting it, and I was a bit surprised when I got told, but I don’t decide who picks the award. I would imagine the Ross County and Rangers games will have had a significant bearing on why myself and Jason have been given it.”
Cummings has become a key player for Hibs just weeks after his manager opined that he was not ready to start a run of games. Stubbs has been impressed by the 19-year-old striker’s hard work both on and off the pitch, but believes he will still have to handle him carefully.
“With young lads it’s very easy to just throw them in and then expect too much too soon. We’ve seen the effects of that with a couple of other young players, and you’ve got to make sure that what you’re doing is in the best interests of the players in the long term.
“We’ve got Jason for three or four years and it has to be right. You have to be able to drop him in at the right time and pull him out at the right time, and that’s all part of managing him.
“His training is much improved. When he first came back he wasn’t fit. He’d had a good summer, by the looks of it, and he needed to get back in training and start living the lifestyle of a professional footballer. That’s taken a little bit of time, and we’ve had to try and guide him and educate him in what the lifestyle of a modern-day footballer is now, compared to 20 years ago.
“I’m not going to go too much more into what he was like, but he’s been very good. He’s adapting. It was never going to change overnight. He needs to realise about his weight, what he’s eating, his body fat – we’ve had to work on all these things with him, to give him that extra edge on the pitch.”
Although Cummings and the other young players may have most to learn, Stubbs believes that the squad as a whole can benefit from improved lifestyles.
But he explained that laying down a set of hard-and-fast laws was not the most productive way to teach the squad.
“I haven’t banned chips, I haven’t banned ketchup – nothing. I like Monster Munch: there’s nothing wrong with Monster Munch!
“We’ve just introduced what we feel would be beneficial to the players. It’s not ‘you must do this, you must do that’. It’s not so much ‘you can’t eat this’: we would advise them not to eat that.
“But the players have been great. It’s all about coming to a happy medium. We’ve just tried to help point them in the right direction.”
Stubbs had to learn such lessons himself, having begun his playing career at a time when regular nights out were the norm. He is convinced that acquiring good habits helped him extend that career.
Asked what the hardest thing had been for him to change, he said: “I think probably the main one would have been socialising,” he said.
“That’s not to say I was out all the time, but the culture then was you won on a Saturday and you went out with the lads on the Saturday night. You would be off on the Sunday and back in training on Monday and Tuesday, and then you may go out.
“But that was then. I think when the foreign players started coming into the UK they brought that side of the game with them, which has been a real positive.
“Arsene Wenger coming in completely changed players’ perceptions of how a footballer should live. Some players even now might not like it, but they’ve got a small window to make as much as they can.
“I’d say it definitely gave me an extra three or four years at the top. I was lucky enough to finish at 37. If I hadn’t had all these things at my disposal I would potentially have been looking at maybe 33. I truly believe that.”
Meanwhile, Stubbs hopes to sign former Scotland Under-21 international Paul Quinn. The erstwhile Motherwell right-back has been training at East Mains, and could provide competition for David Gray.
“If we can do something with Paul we will certainly look to,” the manager said. “That is probably the only position we don’t have cover for, and it could be a short-term deal or to the end of the season. We’ll just try and come to some sort of agreement with him if we can.”