Should Hibs' board be condemned for sacking Shaun Maloney? When dust settles, maybe others will too

A game of opinions, there is one that tends to unite. And, as he addressed the media earlier this week, holding his hands up for the messy Shaun Maloney episode, Hibs owner Ron Gordon showed an understanding of the Scottish game few among his own fanbase have credited him with in recent weeks as their season went down the pan.

Hibs manager Shaun Maloney was sacked after just 120 days in charge.
Hibs manager Shaun Maloney was sacked after just 120 days in charge.

“This club is doing a lot of wonderful things,” said the US-based chairman. “But if you don’t get the football right it’s almost insignificant, nobody really cares. So we need to get the football right.”

In that quest for a better product, or wins and for silverware, Gordon and his board have helped create the mess they now have to deal with. They were the ones who decided that previous boss Jack Ross – who had delivered their best league performance in 16 years last term – could be improved on and brought in the inexperienced Maloney, who was charged with building on that while also delivering silverware and a more aesthetically-pleasing brand of football.

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They allowed him to recruit long-term projects but demanded immediate results.

Hibs players train ahead of their first match in the bottom six.

After just four months and back-to-back derby defeats which cost them a top-six spot in the Premiership, a shot at Europe, and ongoing participation in the Scottish Cup, they decided Maloney wasn’t up to the task.

But should they be condemned for that move, as they have been by many who have viewed the past few weeks as open season, or should they be given credit for acting decisively, holding their hands up and promising to try to get it better next time? Yes, it was ruthless and harsh on Maloney, who expected more time, but was it really the wrong decision?

The issue now is whether they can make amends with the arrival of a new manager who has the experience that trumps highly-regarded coaching credentials. Someone who isn’t constrained by talk of a ‘Hibs way’ of playing, and instead pulls together a winning side.

For decades fans have used talk of silky, cultured football as a comfort blanket when things haven’t been going well. But, if they were honest, looking back through the club’s history, how often has that been paired with winning silverware on a consistent basis?

Gordon and chief executive Ben Kensell want to try to change that and their own fans shouldn’t shoot them down for trying.

The Maloney appointment was risky and bold but now they need to reconsider all the criteria on their wish list.

The pressure is on but while they wait to see who will be entrusted with the high demands, fans and ‘neutral’ observers need to retain some perspective. Gordon and Kensell are not the first chairman and CEO to mess up when it comes to managerial appointments. The Hibs board is not even the first Hibs board to get it wrong. In the past 22 years there have been 16 Hibs managers, so the high turnover is nothing new.

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But with wounds still raw and emotions running high, there has been a degree of revisionism.

In recent days, many have taken solace in an idealised view of the past. Some have hankered for the days of Leeann Dempster, who undoubtedly did a wonderful job of stabilising and revitalising the club in the wake of relegation. But it would be wrong to whitewash mistakes that were made then, too.

And those saying they would prefer Rod Petrie to the current hierarchy are either disingenuous or have worked hard to suppress past traumas. This was, after all, a man whose latter years were punctuated by rancour, protests, low attendances and relegation, while the turnover of managers and coaches called for a revolving door to be fitted.

This season has been a fairly unedifying one but, while the knives are out, there has been progress off the field. Not only has the club shown backbone in tackling the SPFL and SFA, there has also been vastly improved sponsorship deals and, after the impact of Covid and empty stadiums, money has been found to upgrade the infrastructure and revamp the matchday experience, with kiosks and big screens, as well as ongoing work on the corporate side of things, with the suites likely to bring in increased finance.

These things may seem surplus to fans’ requirements, who want to see their team playing well, winning derbies and trophies and securing annual involvement in Europe. But it is hard to improve one without the other.

Like it or not, football is a business these days – it has been for decades now – and without the sideshow of bringing in cash, the task of winning games becomes harder.

Top managers cost money, and better players aren’t cheap.

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Aberdeen found that out in recent years, Hearts are digging deep now and while it will sting that their rivals are thriving while Hibs have stalled, the decision this week to axe Maloney can be taken as a show of ambition.

“Don’t get me wrong, we got to a final and a semi and the margin of not being in the top six is pretty small, so it’s not a disaster," said Paul McGinn earlier in the week. “It’s still not where Hibs want to be, [the sacking] a quite clear sign of it.

“I suppose it’s a good sign from the club, it shows the level the chairman wants to get to.

“We should be up there as one of the big clubs in the country and staying about, as Aberdeen had done for so long. We can’t yo-yo about and there are negative sides to both, but I can see where they are coming from.”

When the dust settles, maybe others will too.