RELUCTANT though he is to admit that any of his previous managerial appointments was a mistake, Rod Petrie is sure that this time he has got it right.
Whatever circumstances led to the earlier choices of Colin Calderwood and Pat Fenlon, everything has fallen into place on this occasion for the Hibernian chairman with the arrival of Terry Butcher and his assistant manager Maurice Malpas.
Within hours of Fenlon’s resignation 12 days ago, Petrie had identified Butcher as his principal target. Inverness Caledonian Thistle’s success, with resources far more modest than are available to Hibs, made him sure he had chosen the right man. Yesterday, after introducing the new two-man team to the media, Petrie calmly, but with unmistakable enthusiasm, expressed his delight with the appointments. “As a board of directors, looking at what we’ve achieved and what we have here, we thought the time was right to appoint an experienced management team,” he said.
“We wanted a pair, because it was very clear they work very well together. Terry made it plain from the outset that it was a partnership between himself and Maurice, and we were very keen to get that ready-made solution. Not the time for experimentation.
“Terry and Maurice as a very experienced management team are absolutely the right people to capitalise on what we’ve got; galvanise the football club. We’ve got a £5 million training centre. We’ve got a 20,000-seater stadium. We’ve got a good squad of players. We’ve had inconsistent performances. We’ve got a very experienced management team now, who know the game in Scotland inside out and have had over 300 games in the dugout at the highest level of Scottish football with Motherwell and Inverness.
“What they’ve achieved in the last two years has been quite amazing. So I think he’s absolutely the right person to take things forward.”
Some Hibs supporters, hungry for success and embarrassed if not enraged by Fenlon’s failings, have suggested that financial stability is Petrie’s principal or even only concern. But the chairman himself insisted that he regarded that stability as no more than the platform on which to build, and that he was as eager to be successful as anyone else associated with the club.
“If we live within our means we have a platform. Supporters have been here for generations and they want the club to be here for their kids and grandkids. So our primary responsibility is to have that stability – but there’s no limit to our ambition. There is no limit to what we want to achieve at the football club; there is no limit to where we want to see it going. But we have to do it within the resources that are available to us.
“If we don’t do that and put the club in jeopardy then I don’t think we are serving anyone well, our community, our supporters and people who want to see the football club and have that engagement with the passion and desire and trips to Hampden and trips to Europe. We need to be here to deliver that.
“The club has progressed from where it was a number of years ago. We’ve completed the stadium and have a fantastic training facility. We’ve got a good squad of players. Now, we have an experienced and talented management team, hopefully we can kick on from here. We need to be challenging at the top of Scottish football, we need to be playing in Europe, we need to be challenging at the highest level. Fundamentally we need to be winning games: we haven’t won enough.
“We’ve got a manager who is undoubtedly a winner. He’s very passionate about it – he hates losing. And he needs to make our group of players better. He needs to get better performances and more consistent performances and he wants to win games.
“If you start winning games you start to get a momentum going and then who knows what you can achieve? The club is hugely important in Scottish football. It has a rich history. And we need to give the supporters every hope we can emulate the successes of the past. There is an opportunity. We have now put ourselves in a position where we can kick on from here and grasp that opportunity.
“There is no limit on the ambition of this football club. I think we have all the components at our disposal to be a very successful football team. And there is nothing more important than the managerial appointment. Terry and Maurice as a partnership know what they are doing, know what they want to achieve. We’re delighted to have them here and we want to support them all we can.”
If there were times when Hibs seemed adrift under Fenlon and Calderwood, not to mention their predecessors John Hughes and Mixu Paatelainen, Petrie is convinced that progress has been made over the past few years. Not as much as he had hoped for, of course, but enough for some sort of footballing foundation to be have been laid for Butcher and Malpas.
“Colin took over when we were on a bit of a downward spiral. He arrested the decline but couldn’t take it forward.
“Pat took it forward from where it was. In his first ten league games in charge he got five points: in his last ten he got 15. So he certainly made an improvement.
“We’ve been to two club finals. He’s taken it to a level, and he decided the time was right for somebody to take it beyond that, because of his respect for the football club and the supporters and the people that we have here. So I think we’re on an upward curve.”