Colin Calderwood's future uncertain but for now 'it's time to get down to work'
Admittedly, it did once seem more likely that he would be one of two other places this weekend. Either watching Nottingham Forest take on Stuttgart in a friendly at the City Ground this afternoon, or else helping his old friend Chris Hughton run the rule over Birmingham City at Hereford. Instead, he will be taking his seat in the dug-out tomorrow as Hibs host Celtic at the start of the new season.
It's where Rod Petrie, the Hibs chairman, desperately wanted him to be. But you have to question whether the manager himself is delighted with his current situation. One suspects it is the consequence of Petrie's steely resolve rather than the manager's own deep desire to remain with Hibs.
Indeed, had Petrie accepted either Forest or Birmingham's offer of compensation then we might well have been hearing from a new Hibs manager yesterday. Surprisingly, perhaps, it was Calderwood who previewed the season. How much of it he will see as Hibs manager remains to be seen.
It's an unsatisfying situation for all concerned, though the Hibs fans in particular must yearn for resolution of some sort. Calderwood stopped short of issuing an eve-of-season rallying cry, and neither did he offer an assurance that his long-term future remained at Easter Road. He did, however, admit to suspecting he might start the season as Hibs manager, no matter the intensity of speculation linking him with a return south.
"If you were to sit down and analyse it and let the dust settle, there were one or two moments, but, in reality, yes," he replied, rather haltingly, when asked whether he truly believed he would still be in place now. However, it's been a far from straightforward summer, with Calderwood's own unsettled situation compounded by a training ground bust-up between Sean Welsh and Martin Scott. The latter was judged to be the aggressor, and has been fined. Welsh, meanwhile, is still another two months away from first team duty. He was only released from hospital earlier this week after an infection set in, following surgery to his cheek.
Further concerns about the effect Calderwood's situation was having on efforts to re-build the squad re-surfaced this week, when trialist Cillian Sheridan made a sudden switch to St Johnstone. Not much about this move made sense although it was easy to speculate that Sheridan had reservations about signing for a club where the manager's future remains in question, even though he would only have been on loan from Lokomotiv Sofia.
Asked about this, Calderwood replied: "I certainly hope not." "It's not what he told me," he added. "I don't think that was a factor. He'd been at St Johnstone before and knew Derek (McInnes] and he felt that he'd only been given one offer by the club (Sofia]. How true that is I don't know."
Calderwood complained about a lack of communication between the parties, though he had a specific gripe with Lokomotiv Sofia. "The decision was made without us having any knowledge of it," he said. "By that time, because contact had not been made, we had to step forward and make our own decision as well."
This involved stepping back from any deal, which was surprising given Sheridan's recent outing in a Hibs shirt and Calderwood's own contention that they needed a striker. While he might well line-up with just Garry O'Connor up front tomorrow, this won't be the case every week. "We took the positive (decision] and made sure we were in control of the situation as much as possible," he added.
The result of this is that Hibs go into the season's opener without a back-up for O'Connor, with Junior Agogo, the on-trial Ghanaian forward, not yet having gained clearance to appear competitively for the club. Calderwood called for the supporters to play a part, no matter how disillusioned they might have become after a summer which began so brightly with the capture of O'Connor and Ivan Sproule. But Calderwood is glad a team of Celtic's calibre are Hibs' first test, with the occasion likely to get the fans "on-side". "Support for a club is something which determines a good club," he said. "I am sure it will be there."
The players' commitment is not an issue, he stressed. "Nothing which has been written has affected them," he said. "The players are ready and they have asked me (about my future] as many times as the press have. I told them it's time to get down to work. Nothing's changed. They feel as though they have had a decent pre-season."
Calderwood believes the uncertainly over his own position has helped strengthen the bond between him and the players. They feign surprise when he appears each morning. "Is it gallows humour?" he smiled. "It's communication you wouldn't have with players if they don't like you and you don't respect them."
After a tenth place finish last season, Hibs fans will believe a jump into the top six is the least that can be expected. Calderwood refused to set a target but accepted the team had to be "way, way better" than last year.
There are still many who are convinced that he will be assessing any improvement from afar come May.