The former player and fans’ favourite has been spotted going through his paces with the first team squad this week, but manager Stubbs says that allowing him to use the facilities does not mean that he is poised to sign him up. While there is currently no intention to add the Hibs fan to the burgeoning squad, Stubbs was unwilling to conclusively rule out the prospect of the player coming on to the club’s books for the third time in a career that promised much but stalled prematurely.
“Yes, Derek is in training with us,” said the Easter Road gaffer. “As a manager I would never refuse an ex-player training facilities. That is the way it was put to me.”
The former Scotland international has been without a club since leaving East Fife in the summer and has struggled to make an impact in Scotland since swapping Easter Road for a doomed spell in China in 2011. The ex-Celtic striker then followed that up with short-lived stints at St Johnstone, Bristol Rovers, Alloa and Brechin before heading to Methil last term.
“If Derek comes in and blows the house down and is fantastic then I will have a real decision to make,” acknowledged Stubbs, “but this is not a risk or a gamble and I am just providing Derek with an opportunity to train.”
With a squad now bursting with midfield and striking options, the 32-year-old, who scored 90 goals in his previous two spells at the club, would have his work cut out convincing the club that he merits more than the chance they are giving him to regain full fitness, which is why Stubbs made the offer with no end product in mind.
“I didn’t feel obliged but I felt it was the right thing to do for him,” explained the manager, who signed up three new strikers just before the transfer window closed, adding them to two of the Championship’s top goal scorers from last season and others who were enlisted during the close-season.
Welcoming Riordan into the ranks signals a softening in the club’s stance, though, when it comes to the former talisman. The player claimed he was denied the same opportunity to train with the club last year following critical comments about the team under former boss Pat Fenlon, but Stubbs said he has no such issues.
“The fans loved him when he was here and it is not just done because of that,” he said. “If I had been a player at a certain club then I would like the manager to let me use the facilities and that is all I have done. At the moment he is here using the club’s facilities to get used to training day in and day out again rather than part-time stuff. I was happy to help him out to be honest.”
With so many attacking options to choose from these days, there seems little need to pin hopes on a faded favourite. The Hibs manager already has his work cut out attempting to satisfy all the players already on the books. The arrival of Islam Feruz, on loan from Chelsea, and Henri Anier from Dundee United as well as the dramatic elevation of Jamie Insall from non-league football offers him more options than ever up front, with James Keatings also knocking on the door after fighting back to fitness. But Stubbs is happy to have so many vying for places and says he won’t countenance a rota system in an attempt to keep them all enthused.
They return to league business this weekend with a match against Alloa and Stubbs is buoyed by the way the players have responded to the intensified battle for a starting berth and he believes it sets the club up perfectly for a tilt at promotion back to the Premiership.
“There is competition for places now and there are players looking over their shoulders especially in the striking department,” he said. “Just because you have the shirt it doesn’t mean that you are guaranteed a game week in, week out. Every club that wants to be successful wants that.
“I won’t rotate for the sake of it. I will only rotate the team for the right reasons.”
He accepts that he may have to deal with some unhappy players if they can’t impress enough in training to earn a shot in the starting line-up, but states they are the ones with the power to influence his selections.
“When strikers are in the team scoring, they are happy. When they are not scoring, they are not happy. When they are not in the team, they are not happy. They are probably the most miserable bunch of the lot,” said the former defender. “I am very comfortable with having a real choice of strikers and I like the fact that I am looking to my bench and I have lots of options to change the game.
“It is important for players when they are doing well that they stay in the team. But there is a tipping point when they drop off and need to have a break to refresh their legs and minds.”