ALAN Stubbs has begun negotiations with key members of his Hibernian squad who are out of contract in the summer, and is very optimistic that they will agree new deals.
Liam Craig, Scott Robertson and Lewis Stevenson are among those whose current contracts expire at the end of the season, and, although the manager’s budget will be determined by the outcome of Hibs’ fight for promotion from the Championship, he believes that those players and others are eager to stay.
“There are discussions going on at this moment in time with the players that we want to tie down,” Stubbs said yesterday. “Some of them may not be until after the transfer window closes, but we’re definitely comfortablewith where we are in those discussions.
“Does it matter where we’re playing next season? I think the answer to that is yes. And that would be the case at any club.
“If we go up then it changes things, and if we stay in the division then we will be in the same position we are this season. If we go up then I would expect the budget to go up. That changes the parameters.
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“Players have to be professional and, if they are up in the summer, then they have to earn a contract.
“That should not get in the way of performances. If anything, performance levels should go up. I’ve never had any problems in that regard and even if I tell someone they will not be staying beyond the end of the season I would still expect them to be professional.
“We’re speaking to quite a few of them and are in good discussions with quite a few. The feedback is that they love it here.
“When you’re at a good club then, more often than not, if you leave you won’t find many better clubs to go to. If you’re are happy where you are, then you want to stay there. There are only maybe two or three clubs that would be a step up from Hibs from a club and facilities perspective.”
Five points behind second-placed Rangers, who have a game in hand, Hibs visit Queen of the South tomorrow with Stubbs confident that his team are in a better state than they were on their last visit to Dumfries, when they lost 1-0. That was back in September, while the game between the clubs at Easter Road two months later ended goalless.
It is a potentially pivotal fixture for both clubs, with Queens lying fourth, three points behind Hibs. Given how tight those two previous games were, Stubbs would love to have his full squad available, particularly the strikers. But he has known for some time that Dominique Malonga would be away this month on Africa Cup of Nations duty and, more recently, he has reluctantly become reconciled to the possibility that the French-born front man may be away for longer than originally expected.
Malonga came off the bench to set up the equaliser in Congo’s game against hosts Equatorial Guinea last Saturday, and was an unused substitute as they beat Gabon 1-0 on Wednesday night. Congo’s final game in the group stages is against Burkina Faso on Sunday, and they only need a draw to qualify for the quarter-finals.
“It’s very much a double-edged sword,” Stubbs said when asked how he felt about Malonga’s potential progress in the continental championship. “We want Dominique to do great over there.
“The fact Congo are in it and look like they have a great chance to qualify is wonderful for him and for Hibs as a club. You want to be represented at such a prestigious tournament.
“If you ask me from a really selfish point of view, then, yes, we would like to have him back as soon as possible. But we are really happy that he’s featuring alongside the quality that is at that tournament.
“When he’s back I’m sure he will be raring to go, hopefully he’ll be refreshed and we’ll have a strike-force which will be the envy of most clubs.”