Aware that her club are just four points off the bottom of the Premiership, and perhaps risking Willie Miller urging her to “get a life”, Leeann Dempster has stressed Hibs “need to be ready” for the new opportunity presented by the Europa Conference League.
Uefa’s third club competition is set to be introduced in season 2021-22 and offers clubs such as Hibs a better chance to play multiple games in Europe. Qualification will be weighted towards teams in Europe’s lower-ranked nations.
A Uefa statement in September explained the new format is designed to bring in more matches for more clubs and more associations. The broadcaster BT Sport has already signed a deal to show all the games.
Ensuring Hibs are in the mix for this new frontier is one of the challenges Easter Road chief executive Dempster has set Jack Ross, whose first task is to lead the team away from relegation danger. The fear of missing out is one of the reasons the Hibs board were quick to act after just one win in their opening 11 league matches this season under Paul Heckingbottom.
Ross, who was confirmed as Heckingbottom’s replacement last week, has been made well aware of what is expected in the longer term.
“We talk about the big club mentality,” said Dempster. “He’s been at Sunderland which is a massive club. So, he understands the expectations here. We’re a capital city club with massive rivals and great opportunities to try and continue some of the good work we’ve done.
“But we want to be better. We want to be ready for the new European competition. People talk about that being 100 years away but it’s not. It’s a few years away.
“We’re almost at the end of 2019 now. That competition and the opportunity that gives us and other clubs in Scotland, that’s what we want. When it happens, we want to be ready to take advantage of it.”
Austin MacPhee was recently ridiculed on BBC Radio Scotland’s Sportsound for suggesting Hearts should be qualifying for Europe every year despite the Tynecastle club’s current predicament in the league. Pundit Willie Miller, pictured, was especially offended by the interim Hearts manager’s suggestion, chucking that he needed to “get a life”.
But the onus is on clubs to be ready for this new opportunity. It’s certainly not beyond clubs such as Hearts and Hibs to be involved. That, after all, is the intention – to include more teams. Dempster views it as the next step for Hibs. Ross himself said Hibs should always be aiming to challenge for a top four place “and European qualification” when he was introduced to the media earlier this week.
“The determination when we first came in was to get the club promoted,” she said. “It took longer to do that than we’d have liked.
“The determination at the minute is too get the club ready for the new competition in Europe and that means finishing in the top three or four in order to be able to participate. I don’t think we should shy away from that.
“A club like Hibernian with the fan base it as and the financial capacity it’s got has to have that aspiration. European competition is a game changer irrespective of what part of the competition you get into.
“If I understand that (new) competition, and there’s more to come out in terms of how we might participate in that or the Europa League, the opportunity to play more games in Europe is an attractive proposition for us.
“That allows us to do that. That has to be an area that ourselves and other clubs in Scotland are aspiring, too. The finances in Europe and the platform it gives the club and the players is undoubtedly a game changer.
“That is why everybody wants to be part of the Champions League. Once you get through to the latter stages, that’s a game changer for clubs who participate.
“Equally if we were able to participate in Europe and get through to a group stage of one of those competitions, the Europa League or the new competition, that would be a massive game changer for us.”
“Financially it’s significant,” she added. “We’re led to believe that there’s an opportunity to play more matches. We played three rounds last season and really enjoyed that. Financially that was great for us and gave us a lot of experience. If you want to be in football you want to be part of these bigger competitions.
“It has to be a challenge for us – to be ready for it.”