Chief executive Ben Kensell and head of recruitment Ian Gordon have spent the past 10 days dealing with expressions of interest and gauging the response of possible targets, before stepping up the selection process.
Owner Ron Gordon will fly in this weekend and a list of around 10 candidates will be discussed and distilled down to a shortlist of three or four at a board meeting scheduled for Monday.
Roy Keane had been one of the primary names linked with the Easter Road vacancy but he will not be considered according to club insiders, who say the Irishman’s representatives reached out after Shaun Maloney was sacked after just four months at the helm but insist there had been no follow-up.
It had been suggested that the former Manchester United midfielder had withdrawn his interest after learning about the club’s ‘transfer committee’, which he was led to believe that recruitment was decided on a committee vote rather than the manager having the final say.
A common misconception, with a growing number of fans expressing concern about the influence of the chairman’s son on footballing matters, after they were left unimpressed by several of the club’s recent transfer dealings.
Gordon jnr was controversially given the head of recruitment role in October after former sporting director Graeme Mathie left Easter Road. Many questioned his credentials but it has apparently frustrated Hibs that his role in deciding personnel has been vastly exaggerated.
Rather than having a major vote as part of a committee, the process is collaborative. The 29-year-old is charged with laying the groundwork, inputting criteria, such as position, price, attributes, into a database and using a combination of statistics and agent recommendations to draw up a list of players for the manager to consider. The club are emphatic that the manager has the final say on which of those possible signings to pursue and chief executive Kensell is then left to negotiate a deal that falls within the club’s budget.
But it is understood that Keane’s apparent fears about that recruitment process were not to blame for his omission from any shortlist, with the club revealing that they had not followed up the ex-Sunderland and Ipswich boss’ representative’s note of interest, feeling there were a number of other options who would be a better fit for the Leith side.
Among those are former manager Tony Mowbray, who has stated his intention to walk away from Blackburn at the end of the season. The Englishman enjoyed a successful stint at Hibs between 2004-2006, where he guided the team to the latter stages of the cup competitions and into Europe, thanks to top four finishes. A popular manager with the Hibs support, he is credited with developing a golden generation of youngsters, such as Scott Brown, Kevin Thomson and Steven Whittaker, and he was named the Scottish Football Writers’ Manager of the Year in his first season.
As well as Ross County manager Malky Mackay, who is still on course to steer the Dingwall club into Europe for the first time in their history, others such as former target Michael Appleton and Darren Ferguson have been linked with the job, along with Michael O’Neill while the possibility of a foreign candidate has also been explored.
It is feared that Mackay’s past, when he became embroiled in a racism and sexism scandal due to the release of text messages during his time as Cardiff City boss, could work against him, while other candidates could be hampered by a lack of experience playing, coaching or managing in Scottish football.
Appleton had been linked with the position when the club were seeking a replacement for Neil Lennon in 2019 but he was passed over following a stand-off regarding personal terms and Paul Heckingbottom was appointed instead.
But there would be support for former Northern Ireland manager O’Neill, who is currently in charge at Stoke City.
Hibs owner Ron Gordon has recently admitted that the Leith side may have been too hasty in parting ways with Jack Ross early this season, despite a poor run of form. The former Sunderland manager had taken Hibs to third last season - their highest league finish in 16 years - and had guided them to the latter stages of every cup competition during his tenure.
His replacement, Maloney was seen as a bold appointment and the former Belgian national team coach was charged with improving results and providing a more aesthetically-pleasing brand of football but after he engineered just one win in 2022, he was sacked just four months into the job, with issues over his backroom staff and a lack of faith in his ability to take the club forward.
Keen to have someone fresh in place ahead of the summer transfer window, with additions to be brought in and current squad members waiting to see if they will be deemed surplus to requirements, while other key players likely to be targeted by suitors, the club’s hierarchy are keen to ensure their new man is given time to make up his mind and be ready to hit the ground running when the squad return for pre-season training.
The arrival of Gordon this weekend will move that search forward with a decision expected by the end of next week.