MAN bigging up professional credentials of another man who just happens to be a close friend is hardly an unusual occurrence.
Yet, the endorsement of John Hughes’ candidacy for manager of the year by his former team-mate and golfing buddy John Collins has credibility because of the cogent argument the Celtic assistant can offer to back up his case for the Inverness Caledonian Thistle coach.
The Highland club host the Premiership leaders tomorrow lunchtime. The technical areas at the Caledonian Stadium, then, could be housing the two managers most would plump for as the outstanding candidates for foremost in their field in Scotland’s top flight this season.
Collins said yesterday that as Ronny Deila’s right-hand man it was “easy” to champion the idea that the Norwegian’s efforts were worthy of recognition even when Celtic’s resources dwarf all rivals in Scotland. “Other people will judge us, other managers, you [the media], but the judging will be done at the end of the season by everybody,” he said, before referencing his club’s pursuit of the treble. “[All] the trophies still haven’t been dished out. Come the end of the season we know what we’re after and if we get it then Ronny might get another one on top of that, an individual one.”
Collins, though, didn’t sound as if he would be too put out if Hughes beat his Celtic compatriot to the managerial honour. The relationship between the Edinburgh-based pair is too strong, and covers too many years, for it to be any other way. It was back in the mid-1990s that Hughes’ move to Celtic from Falkirk led to him linking up with Collins in the east end of Glasgow.
The two shared a footballing philosophy that ensured they remained sounding boards for each other when embarking on management careers after playing days that greatly diverged after a season together at Celtic. Much later, when the duo found themselves at leisure following Hughes’ sacking by Hibernian in late 2010 – where he had succeeded Collins – they cemented their friendship on the golf courses of East Lothian. The partnership was re-established professionally when Collins became director of football at Livingston for a spell when Hughes was manager.
“He has completely changed the way Inverness play. That’s very difficult to do”John Collins
Hughes was a surprise choice for the Inverness job when handed the reins in December 2013 following Terry Butcher’s switch to Hibs. Now, he stands on the threshold of leading the Highland club into Europe for the first time. The club are eight points above fourth-placed Dundee United, despite failing to win any of their past six league games.
“I think he has done an incredible job with Inverness, with the resources he’s got,” Collins said of Hughes. “I think he has 17 players in his squad, he lost his goalscorer [Billy Mckay] in January. It’s not just his results. He has accumulated a lot of points and for a long time they were very close to us, which is quite incredible, but it’s more about the manner in which they’ve gathered the points.
“The easiest way to coach and maybe manage is no-risk football, get it up the pitch and fight for the second balls. That’s not John’s philosophy. He always wants to try to develop players and develop the team. He puts demands on his players, his defenders, to take the ball. He has completely changed the way Inverness play. They were maybe a more direct team, they played long balls, second balls, under the previous manager.
“But he went in there and straight from day one he said, ‘This is how I do it, this is how we do it’. And he has turned it around. That’s very difficult to do over a short period of time and get results, and he’s done it. I know how he works on the training pitch, he is a very thorough coach. He can’t get any more out of those players. The way they play, that is their maximum and that’s the sign of a good manager and a good coach.”
There seems to be a begrudging element when it comes to assessing Hughes’ time on the trackside. The way in which Collins sets out his contributions to all the teams of which he has taken charge provides compelling reasons for why the sniffiness is uncalled for.
“If you look through his record as a manager, he has had results and performances everywhere he’s been,” Collins said. “He’s made his teams better. Look where Falkirk were when he was there, they were in the SPL and getting to cup finals. Hibs, he took them into Europe and made them money selling players.
“Hartlepool, if you took his points tally from when he joined [in the November of the 2012-13 season] they would have finished ninth... they got relegated but [from] the points he accumulated they would have been top half. A lot of people don’t know that, they just think he got sacked. But he did a very good job with the exact same players he started with, he never brought anybody in. He worked with me at Livingston and did a great job there. And Inverness. Manager of the year? He can’t be far away.”
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