THERE is an almost mischievous look on Terry Butcher’s face as he talks about the full-hearted welcome his new signings have enjoyed on the training pitch.
“Even the smallest guy was getting weighed in,” he smiles, recalling the robust challenges and the high intensity session that served as a welcome north for the likes of Daniel Boateng. “They just do that. We demand that from them,” he adds of the Hibs squad and their no-holds barred approach to training. He recognises it is a far cry from the kind of football the young Arsenal player has been used to.
The young defender has been signed on loan from the London club, where he shared the training park with some of the most skilful players in the English top flight and the player, who comes into the reckoning for this weekend’s Scottish Cup tie against Raith Rovers, has quickly sussed that he will have to make some adjustments.
“I came into the Arsenal first team against Bolton at 19 and in that squad was Thomas Vermaelen, Yossi Benayoun, Andrei Arshavin, Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain and Per Mertesacker.
“The Hibs squad is very good. However, the game is so physical in Scotland. I have taken part in one training session and I did not expect it to be that physical. It is nothing that I can’t handle but I will get used to it. I will learn to handle the physical approach and make it suit my game as I am up for the challenge.”
“I think he was surprised,” says Butcher. “It’s ever so difficult when you take young lads from down south, particularly Premier League players who haven’t been on loan or tasted life outside the capital or their club, and then you give them a taste of life outside their country, it’s a big step into the unknown. I think at the moment they are just like ‘wow!’
“But I’ve said to them it’s not like Arsenal now or Tottenham or Chelsea, it’s not your Premier League Under-21, this is rough and tumble, blood and snot, all that kind of thing. Although I’m not sure Daniel understood the word snot but I’m sure he will learn the lingo!”
For Boateng, learning new skills and a different style of play is viewed as a positive. Unfazed by the personnel he has shared the dressing-room with over the past few years, he says he is keen to progress as a player and welcomes the opportunity for regular first-team football, having played just once in Arsene Wenger’s first team, as a late substitute in that League Cup match in 2011.
“Training with the first team on a regular basis is no big deal but when you step out on to the pitch in front of 60,000 supporters at the Emirates Stadium, that is exciting and that’s what footballers want to do and you can’t get enough of it,” he states. “I see playing for Hibs as a stepping stone to moving on to something else. It is best for me and my career if I play games now and that is what I want to do. I believe I can do well in Scotland.”
Butcher agrees with him. “He’s a big boy, a powerful lad, good on the ball, got good strength and he is a solid defender. Anyone who can get on Arsenal’s bench is quality. We spoke to a few people down there and they were quite amazed that we got him because a lot of clubs in League One and League Two had wanted him as well, but I think being an ex-England captain helped a bit in the process as well.
“These boys weren’t born when I played so it’s not like they have memories of watching me play but they probably do Google me. I think it does help to a certain extent. I speak to the players and they’ll say things, for example Daniel asked me what it was like to play for England? Half an hour later. . . no, it wasn’t quite like that! But I do think it has a bit of a bearing!”
The reputation of the manager was definitely as much of a lure as the club itself. But he confesses he did need to read up on both before making his decision to see out the season in the SPFL.
“I played a game against Chelsea on the Friday and then my agent called me and said that Terry Butcher was interested in signing me. I looked at my options and I thought ‘why not come to Scotland?’ I was certainly up for the challenge although I didn’t know too much about Hibs and I had to go on the internet and Google them. I knew they were a big club in the Scottish Premier League and at that point I thought ‘why not.’”
Seeing the images of his gaffer as a blood-soaked warrior in his playing days simply made the decision easier. “I thought I am a defender myself and he played for England back in the day so I knew he could be of help to myself,” he added.