Hibs transfers: Things moving fast under Lee Johnson as decisions made and activity ramped up
The new boss has rubber stamped the acquisition of Scotland keeper David Marshall and Leeds United teenager Nohan Kenneh, but he has chosen not to take up the Leith club’s option to sign Fulham loanee Sylvester Jasper on a permanent basis. Others such as Alex Gogic, Drey Wright and Scott Allan – whose contracts expire at the end of the month – are expected to depart too.
And that is just for starters.
The manager must decide if Norwich loanee Rocky Bushiri is part of his plans, while fellow defender Paul McGinn also has another one-year option to weigh up.
However, looking to embolden and freshen up a squad that underachieved this term, there will undoubtedly be further exits and arrivals.
If stories from south of the border are true, he could soon have a decision to make on the future of young defenders Josh Doig and Ryan Porteous, who have been monitored by a few English clubs but remain under contract until 2026 and 2024 respectively. Stoke manager Michael O’Neill is one of those keeping tabs on centre-back Porteous but he isn’t the only one, while former Hibs gaffer Paul Heckingbottom is credited with an active interest in taking Scottish Young Player of the Year candidate Doig to Sheffield United. Again, there are others who are paying attention.
“I'm hopeful [of holding onto them] but you're always at the mercy of losing players,” said Johnson. “That's when your recruitment becomes absolutely key.
"You've got to be ready, you can't stop it, and particularly if a player has ambitions to move on, sometimes it's just a natural cycle and you have to evolve.
"Recruitment is key and when that is good, you'll be ready, because you know you can use the funds if there is a sale to reinvest.”
Securing autonomy over the football department was a key factor in Johnson accepting the Hibs role but he says he will work with chief executive Ben Kensell and head of recruitment Ian Gordon to ensure what is best for the club and the players, in the short and long term. Johnson’s CV indicates an aptitude for shrewd dealings and forward-planning.
"We sold Aden Flint at Bristol City for £7million but we wouldn't do it until we'd bought [Adam] Webster for £2.5m from Ipswich,” continued Johnson. “After 14 months Webster sold for £20m, rising to £25m.
"If your recruitment is really good, you're ready and if it's superb, you're ready two windows ahead. That's the place we've got to get to, through understanding the profiles of the position, making sure we can add data metrics to those positional profiles, so that the names coming in are not just agent-led, or scout-led, but they are dynamic to the way we want to play.
"We can also judge our young players against that data and hold off buying somebody because actually we've got a young player coming through who we think fits the bill.”
Johnson knows that filling the various voids from within can be problematic.
“That’s the bit where you need time. Because if you’ve got a young squad they are going to be fantastic at times and every now and again they’ll have a bad day.
“That’s the only bit that you become nervous of as a manager because if you have such a front-foot, bold style of play, that will be attractive to watch, it comes with bad days so that’s when you need to get a bit of grace.”
Johnson has been busy familiarising himself with the players already at his disposal, taking in the final few games of the season live and pouring over video footage of performances prior to that.
Several players signed contract extensions this season, and Hibs player of the year Chris Cadden is expected to add his name to the list very soon. But looking ahead, Johnson intends to be far more strategic.
Speaking at his job announcement, he said there was more to the recruitment process than simply identifying a good player.
“We will add, there's no doubt about that. But it's really important that we get that individual profile of the position right. Don't worry about formations. It's not about formation, it's about the principles of how you want to play and bringing those players in that are elite in the key factors that we want for that position. Therefore we can be flexible, because you’re going to need to be when you come up against top teams.”
There is the obvious need for goals, and while the former Sunderland boss is a fan of Scotland striker Kevin Nisbet, having shown a desire to take him to Wearside, he recognises the penalty his predecessors paid for a flatness in the final third this term.
From dips in form, to too many injuries and suspensions, he is demanding more from the players who do make it into his plans.
“I know we lost a big player [Martin Boyle] in January, but at the same time the fundamental basis of that squad is here. We have got scope to add to that which is obviously important.
“It is about bringing players in that make other players better and the sum of parts is stronger than it was originally.”
While it is hoped new players bring greater potency and a successful mentality, Johnson accepts that his ability to manage the squad will be key, after injuries and indiscipline robbed previous managers of key personnel in too many matches.
“It’s something I’ve looked at deeply, and the injury record here in terms of muscle injuries hasn’t been as good as I would want moving forward. You need your best players fit.
“Especially when you’re punching above your weight resources-wise, you really need to make more right decisions than wrong ones, and then have your money on the pitch, as I see it.”