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)

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.

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“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.

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“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.

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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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