Why Hibs' smaller first-team squad will be achieved with a new team group and how Steve Kean will help Jack Ross

Hibs manager Jack Ross says that pulling together a strong development squad would allow him to continue basing first-team recruitment on quality rather than quantity and dilute the need to send so many players out on loan.
Hibs manager Jack Ross. (Photo by Ross MacDonald / SNS Group)Hibs manager Jack Ross. (Photo by Ross MacDonald / SNS Group)
Hibs manager Jack Ross. (Photo by Ross MacDonald / SNS Group)

Welcoming the arrival of former Blackburn Rovers manager Steve Kean as the club’s new academy director, and his plans to bridge the gap between the U-18s and first team, the Easter Road boss said that a steadier supply of talent immediately beneath the first-team is vital to help the club move forward.

“It's the only way it's sustainable,” said Ross, who has made no secret of his preference for a smaller, tight-knit squad, where there is still competition for places but enough scope for everyone to get a chance. It also allows him to spend more on each of his players.

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“In fairness to Ben [Kensell, CEO] and Ron [Gordon, Hibs’ chairman], we've had conversations, and the flip side is that you make your first-team bigger, but that costs and it's not always conducive to the best environment. And then you block the pathway because the more players in my first-team group, the more difficult it is for younger players to come through.

“However, as a manager, I'm ultimately judged on winning first-team games, and to stay true I need a group below that I can go to when I need them.

“We have an under-18 team doing well but they're super young. Sometimes they come to training and they're not at that level, we just have too big a gap.

“So we need that group. It can be a hybrid of our own academy players, others we've signed and those, such as Daniel MacKay, who we've invested in and believe we can turn into international players, like Kevin Nisbet.

“To be able to continue to do that, we need a place for them to be.”

At the moment those who have moved beyond U-18 but have struggled to make their mark in first-team training have gone on loan to toughen up mentally and physically in match situations. While there are strategic partnerships there remains a fairly wide dispersal of Hibs young talent, which Ross says is not always helpful.

The moulding of a development squad then, filling the void left by former reserve league sides, will see Kean working closely with Ross and, rather than feel threatened by a former manager in his own right, he says it is a major plus to have someone he has dovetailed with on past SFA coaching programmes.

“ Steve's experiences will be invaluable. Any one of us can identify a good player from watching a game at academy level, but dealing with crowd pressure, expectation, the demands and physicality of the first-team, you only get an appreciation of when you work with first-team players regularly. The best example is Josh Doig. He's got the attributes, the athleticism, to be a really good, modern-day attacking full-back. What you can't know until you put them in that environment is their mentality, mindset and strength of mind. Josh has shown incredibly well since he came into the team.

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“I've also got young coaches I'm always challenging to get better and having someone else in the building to discuss things with is undoubtedly a benefit going forward.”

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