The Hibs sales pitch from Ron Gordon and Ben Kensell that left Shaun Maloney unable to say no
As a career move, it may seem counterintuitive to give up working with some of the best players in world football to take charge of a squad currently languishing in seventh place in the Scottish Premiership.
But as he swaps Kevin de Bruyne for Kevin Nisbet, there is not a shred of doubt in Shaun Maloney’s mind that he has made the right decision in leaving his coaching role with Belgium to become the new manager of Hibernian.
While the 38-year-old admits it wasn’t easy to tell Belgium head coach Roberto Martinez he was quitting as his assistant, he found himself unable to resist the manner of the challenge offered to him by Hibs owner Ron Gordon and chief executive Ben Kensell.
“I had discussions very early last week with the owner and the CEO, particularly the CEO to start with,” said Maloney, who has signed a three-and-a-half year contract.
“Those discussions were really open and honest on where they want the club to get to, the vision they have.
“It was the early meetings with those two that were so positive and then when I finally met the owner, I just had a really positive feeling about the club.
“Then, I obviously knew the support and the club, but when I started to delve a little bit deeper it just started to feel like a challenge I couldn’t turn down.
“I had an amazing job and a brilliant manager in Roberto, so there was no push from my side (to become a manager).
“But when the opportunity arose to speak to Hibs, I know the size of the club, I know the intensity of the support, and I just thought it was going to be a really positive thing to start discussing.
“Then, from there, the feelings grew and was an opportunity I just couldn’t turn down. Yes, it was a difficult conversation with Roberto. Not so much from his side – it was just a difficult discussion because I absolutely loved working with the Belgian players and I absolutely loved working with the staff.
“So, I was well aware of what I was giving up. But, in terms of his side, no, the opposite. He was aware throughout the process. I updated him as much as I could and as often as possible.
“He made the whole process very, very easy and always gave his advice when I sought it. Even last night and today, he was just the man I know he is – a really good person. I appreciate that and I’ll forever be grateful for that.”
A serial winner of silverware during his 10 seasons over two spells at Celtic, Maloney also experienced success in England where he was part of Wigan’s 2013 FA Cup winning squad under Martinez.
Since moving into coaching, initially with Celtic’s development squad, he has been an assiduous student of his craft to the extent of earning a Masters degree at the Johann Cruyff academy in the Netherlands.
Maloney has named former Hibs captain Gary Caldwell, most recently working as a loans manager for Manchester City, as his assistant and also brings in 32-year-old Italian coach Valerio Zuddas and former Scottish FA education coach Brian Doogan to his backroom staff.
“A big credit to Manchester City for letting us have Gary because I know he is very highly thought of there,” said Maloney. “It was Gary at the beginning of this process who spoke so highly of Hibs and the city so I appreciate Manchester City for letting us have him so quickly.
“Valerio has come in. He’s a really, really enthusiastic coach. He’s had different experiences. He flew in from Rome a few days ago to get ready for this.
“I met Valerio on the Cruyff coaching course and we had very similar ideas of coaching and a style of play. Sometimes on these courses you click and I’m very fortunate to have made a good friend and someone I respect professionally.
“I was really happy that he’d had so many different experiences so he could come in, having worked with so many different players from different backgrounds. Valerio will be vital to the backroom team.
“Then Brian has great experience from working here for a long, long time. He’s going to be a big part, and they’re all going to be a big part of where we’re trying to get to.”
Maloney will also retain the services of coach and former skipper David Gray and goalkeeping coach Craig Samson who took charge of Hibs as they lost 2-1 to Celtic in the Premier Sports Cup Final at Hampden on Sunday.
Winning trophies is very much part of Maloney’s vision for Hibs, while in the immediate term he still believes another third-place finish in the league is not beyond them.
“What’s been shown domestically is there are other teams who have won cups in Scotland recently,” he said.
“I think that’s something that for sure, we have to give ourselves the most chance of doing.
“In the short term we have the game at home to Aberdeen on Wednesday but we have to try and push as hard as we can to make that top four.
“We’re seventh at the moment, and there are other teams who have the same objectives. But we have to push for fourth with the talent we have in the squad. And if we get there, we have to push for third.
“And in the long term, from speaking to the owner and CEO and also doing my own homework, if we can get to these places then I would really love to see if we can qualify for European (group stage) competition. It has to be one of the long term goals for the club.”
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