Paul Heckingbottom keen to exploit loan market to bolster Hibs
Accepting that players come and go, he knows the market opens up a world of ability he simply couldn’t afford otherwise. And he says he is happy to construct teams around stars making short but sweet pit-stops in the capital.
Admitting that, in an ideal world, he would love to hold on to guys like Stephane Omeonga and Marc McNulty, he says he is aware that in all likelihood, with the pair still on lengthy deals at parent clubs Genoa and Reading, he could be forced to make big changes to his current squad in the summer.
“There will have to be big changes because we have a lot of loans to go back. That is about five or six, so the squad is going to be different, without a doubt.”
But moves are afoot behind the scenes as the Easter Road club explores ways they may be able to hang on to the players who have made a huge impact since their mid-season arrivals. While Omeonga is expected to keep options open until after the U21 European Championships in Italy this summer, no-one has ruled out his return to Leith.
“You all know how well he has done,” said Heckingbottom, pictured, who will bolster his midfield options with the arrival of Scott Allan. “Stephane knows that we want to keep him and help him to get better and I think that appeals to him. He doesn’t think it is scary if he hears me saying ‘that’s great, but this is what you have to do better’, he wants that and I think he probably knows it anyway because he is someone who wants to get better.”
But whether it is the Belgian or several other targets, the Hibs boss says he will look to exploit loans again as he prepares for the new season.
“Definitely, I would be silly not to. Otherwise I would be limiting the amount of players I am able to have a look at. There are a lot of players out of our reach, in terms of transfer fees, wage demands, but they are players who aren’t out of our reach in the loan market. We want to exploit the fact that we have a good reputation, and I think we are actually better than that reputation, when it comes to making people better. As a club, why wouldn’t you send your best young talent to us?
“Stephane is one example but Sparky has also come and done great. He’s a bit older but he is another who has got his rewards. He also sacrificed because he wanted to come and play football and has two caps for Scotland now. But there are other loans who haven’t worked and we have to get the planning right.
“I would rather build my team around loans to make sure we get the best possible players, players we wouldn’t otherwise be able to afford, and then if you are doing that then you automatically have a place in your squad that you can see them playing in. If they are in the team and they perform as you hope because you have done your homework and got in the right player, then another positive loan makes our reputation even better – and we are more likely to get the next one we want on loan from that club and everyone else. I did the same at Barnsley and it was a real weapon in helping us compete against bigger budgets.”
Such tactics mean signing up for an almost constant rebuilding programme but he says he has operated that way before and has no qualms about doing so again.
“Kenty [Ryan Kent, currently on loan at Rangers from Liverpool] was a big one I tried to get when I first got the job [at Barnsley]. He had left Coventry and gone back to Liverpool and I laugh with him now because I rang about him and no one came back to me. We got to the Johnstone Paint final and calls were returned, then we won it and they came back to me straight away and then we got promoted and they were offering me players! That’s how it is. The season we went up we had Lloyd Isgrove, Josh Brownhill, Harry Chapman, Ashley Fletcher, Kevin Long, who went back to Burnley and their first team, so we used loans well.
“It is frustrating when you do all the work with a player, give them the opportunity, make them better and they go back to their parent club and they then sell them for £6m but at the end of the day they have done a job for us and it helps us get the next one because they see the job we have done. We aren’t going to get a financial benefit other than how they help to improve the guys on the pitch and the squad, but that is the way we have to use it.”