HIBERNIAN have got to adopt a more bullish approach, according to the club’s head of football operations, George Craig.
Overseeing a steady influx of players as the Easter Road outfit lay down some early foundations for the season ahead, he says he was glad to see manager Alan Stubbs confront the prospect of another campaign in the Championship with the bold prediction that his squad had the capabilities to ‘do a Hearts’ and secure automatic promotion next season.
At that stage he did not know that Rangers would still be contesting that league but, even with that confirmed, Craig says they should not be retreating. Acknowledging that the presence of a less tumultuous Ibrox team will make the task more difficult, he maintains the manager has not set his club up for failure by setting the bar so high.
“I think we have to be bullish and I think the fans would probably be more disappointed [if we weren’t],” said Craig. “We always knew year one was going to be difficult, not just because you had three clubs in the Championship that really should not have been there but because we had a bit of rebuilding to do, we had a new structure to put in. Change never comes easy so there was always going to be a transitional phase. It would have been great if we had hit the ground running. Had the season started two months later, I’m not going to say we’d have won the league, but I think we certainly would have been a lot closer.
“But I think now the talking needs to stop to a degree, we have to go and get results and we should not shy away from having belief and confidence in our ability and what we are doing.
“I am here saying we are Hibs – they are Rangers. Traditionally Rangers play a bit further up the football pyramid than Hibs so that’s what Rangers do, make sure they are Rangers. We have to make sure we are Hibs and I think at times last season, particularly at the start of the season, we weren’t Hibs. We were losing games that if you look back at the record books Hibs didn’t lose.”
Ensuring they don’t start the new campaign in such erratic fashion is a priority. Work is already well underway to improve on the squad, trying to hang onto the best players and galvanising other areas.
“We are in the Championship and our priority has to be to get out of it,” said Craig. “No disrespect but we all know where Hibs should see themselves.”
The club has already announced the signings of James Keatings and Dan Carmichael, while retaining the services of players like Lewis Stevenson. But key to their ambitions will be holding onto Scott Allan, who has been linked with a switch to Govan. Craig says he believes he will remain in Leith but has resigned himself to having to wait for that to be borne out.
“We want to retain our best players absolutely,” he added. “Our priority has to be getting promoted out of the Championship so you do not need me to tell you Scott Allan is going to be a major part of that. We are fully expecting Scott to be out there doing what he does best. As you’d expect some of the players have done very, very well so at this time they are not immediately going to commit but we are quietly confident the players we want to re-sign will re-sign.
“You cannot lose sight of the fact we are Hibernian Football Club. Everyone has their place in the football pyramid but I keep saying this, irrespective of our league position it doesn’t change we are Hibernian and that was evidenced by the fact that both [Carmichael and Keatings] had other offers. The structure that Alan and myself have put in place at the training centre now gives these guys an absolute perfect platform to develop their potential and ability. I’d go as far as to say that, for me, particularly young players like that, if we are offering them that and they choose to go somewhere else for a bit more as far as a salary is concerned, I’m thinking maybe we’ve had a lucky escape because they can’t see what we can bring to the table and you can’t place a value on that.
“These lads are in their early 20s, you could argue that the two years spent here could propel them into a career who knows where. That’s what Hibs is all about and that’s what I have got when I want to attract quality players to the club.”
But for the plans to be successful, they need to appeal to disenfranchised fans as well as transfer targets. The supporters have already helped to pay for the early summer dealings, through the share issue and the sale of season tickets, but Craig says they have to extend their reach.
“I had a conversation with one supporter who said ‘George we need to find a lottery winner’. But I do not think we do. We just need to persuade the people that used to support Hibs to come back and give it a try. For me there were a few occasions when we got very close to that, the cup semi-final probably being the most obvious. Going forward we need to get the performance and the victory, if we do that, that’s your lottery winner.”