John Hughes: It’s back to basics for Caley Thistle
The Inverness Caley Thistle manager’s biggest fear is that the greatest commodity his team held last season – an unquenchable thirst for success – has been lost somewhere amid the champagne celebrations.
Marking the club’s 21st year with a Scottish Cup triumph and qualification for the Europa League, clearly, was a pinnacle that may never be reached again.
The very least Hughes expects, though, is a decent tilt at repeating it. “I’m hoping what we did last year doesn’t make us soft,” he said.
“I’ve not seen it in the way they’ve trained or in the intensity of their training, but it’s not a physical thing – it is mental.
“Last year, in many ways, what we did was the easy part. Now comes the hard part.
“It runs alongside these teams that come into the Premiership and are brilliant for the first year. It is all new to them and they’re buzzing. Then they get the second-year syndrome. I refuse to accept that. If any of our players think they’re too good, or better than they are, they’ll not be playing in my team.
“It is hard enough at the best of times controlling the ball and passing it to a team-mate, so don’t get blasé – don’t get too big for your boots. That’s the message we’re trying to batter into that dressing room.
“What I have seen of the European ties and the way they’ve trained has been good. I’ve not seen that complacency, but you can get caught out by it.
“Boxing is a sport I love. Most boxing gyms you go into, you can smell the sweat, the hard work and the spirit. They compete with each other, knock lumps out of each other and then they become British or world champions.
“All of a sudden, before they know it, they change their routine. They’re away training in gyms that are state-of-the-art, and they start sleeping with silk pyjamas on.
“They lose the eye of the tiger – and we need to keep that. If you lose that focus, that desire to prove people wrong – or anything else you want to use as motivation – then don’t put the strip on.”
Central to mounting another successful season, Hughes feels, will be the role of the fans. The Inverness manager is eager to ensure inflated expectations don’t harm his team’s progress.
He stressed: “What I say to the fans is expectation can be a very dangerous thing. What we did last year was exceptional. Absolutely fantastic.
“But we go back to basics now, right back to square one. We get our hands dirty again and get the boiler suit back on.
“Anything we get, we go and earn. I ask the supporters to dampen the expectations, remind themselves we’re underdogs and just a wee small team from the Highlands.
“We’re not expecting too much. We’ll be trying to win every game from now until the end of the season, although I don’t think that’ll happen.
“But it is important the vibe we get off the supporters is a vibe of support and appreciation, not frustration, because of everything we did last year.”
Hughes will add latest signing Andrea Mbuyi-Mutombo to his squad after completing the Congolese international striker’s signing on Thursday. Carl Tremarco, James Vincent and summer signing Jordan Roberts are all doubts through injury.
Hughes added: “We play against a Motherwell team on Saturday that will probably be top six this year. They’ve been very astute in keeping a nucleus of experienced players, who know what’s required at this level. Steven Hammell was a big miss for them last year. What happened to them last year, with going into the relegation play-offs, they’ll have that desire and fire in the belly to make sure that doesn’t happen again.
“All the cuts that happened at Motherwell were the only reason they were eventually dragged back down. It happens to every team. It’s very difficult to sustain.”