Can Butcher put sunshine back on Leith?
16/11/2013 § 4 Comments
Alas, a new manager at Hibernian. The club’s 10th gaffer since the Scottish Premier League began back in 1998. Now called the Scottish Premiership since the start of the 2013/14 season, it is Terry Butcher who becomes the latest football boss to walk through the Easter Road doors, bringing assistant and wily old fox Maurice Malpas with him. The pair elected to leave high flying Inverness Caley Thistle in favour of stuttering Hibs. But on the other hand, the signs are there that Rod Petrie and co in Edinburgh may have conjured up their greatest bit of business in years.
To say Butcher worked wonders up in the Highlands with Caley Thistle would be one of the biggest understatements in Scottish football. Season upon season he would work with practically no budget and pluck players from nowhere, turning them into seasoned professionals in the end-up. Goal machine Billy McKay who arrived from Northampton Town for one. McKay is now a Northern Ireland international player and is scoring goals for fun week-in week-out. The Caley Jags’ training facilities aren’t the best either for a top flight club. Apparently they train on a piece of grass similar to what is used for amateur Sunday league teams. However under Butcher, the team currently has reached as high as 2nd in the premiership behind powerhouse Glasgow Celtic, a whole 10 points ahead of Hibs at one stage of this season. Yet former England captain and Scotland coach Butcher has plumped for a journey south, to take up the reigns at the green half of Scotland’s capital.
Earlier this annual year I wrote an article on the man himself who, back in January, decided to stay put in Inverness despite an offer from Barnsley in the much bigger and financially stable English Championship. Back then Butcher decided to stay at a much smaller club on a lesser wage to remain in what he believed to be a better job. I highly commend that, and last season Caley Thistle finished 4th in the SPL — the club’s highest finish in its history.
Earlier this football season, I wrote a similar article on the state of affairs at Hibernian, to which I declared the current squad of players assembled in Leith to be the worst the Hibs fans have ever witnessed. I stand by that to this day. In that same piece I predicted a toothless end to Pat Fenlon’s reign as Hibernian manager. I wasn’t far off with that either, although to be fair to the plucky Irishman, when he took over he did rescue Hibs from one of its worst series of results as long as I can remember. Following that disastrous era which saw Colin Calderwood at the helm, Fenlon successfully steered the club clear of an unthinkable relegation. Under Calderwood, the Hibees only won 12 games out of 49. Under Fenlon, they won 31 out of 87. Do the math and it is over a 10% improvement.
But enough of the past and onto the future, in what will hopefully be a case of onwards and upwards for the Hibs faithful. The team is meandering in 7th place in the Scottish Premiership and no doubt one of chairman Rod Petrie’s last words to Butcher after the appointment would have been an expected top six finish at the very least. What Butcher will bring to Hibs is a new lease of life. An energetic, tenacious, never-say-die attitude that he constantly demands, and one that was presented so often by his former troops in Inverness. ICT club captain Richie Foran epitomized all those adjectives as one.
Ironically, in the week leading up to Butcher’s confirmation as new Hibs boss when he was granted permission to speak to the club, that forthcoming weekend the Hibees faced Caley Thistle in a league match at Easter Road. Butcher sat in the stands leaving Malpas to run things that day. Inverness won 2-0 playing the hosts off the park in the process, with McKay on the scoresheet yet again. That day Hibs were under the temporary charge of Fenlon’s former assistant and Scottish football stalwart Jimmy Nicholl, who has also now left the club.
In the aftermath of that match, Butcher admitted how proud he was to see Inverness play in such a manner and with such swagger. The club and city will no doubt remain close to his heart for evermore. But after Petrie defined him as the outstanding candidate for the Hibernian job, Butcher now needs to bring every ounce of that style of play to Easter Road. And what’s more, he needs to get his new recruits winning again.
Terry Butcher has been involved with Scottish football for many a year. He is a veteran of the Scottish game now, and knows it inside out, as well as what it takes to put a winning team together. He’s proved that at Inverness and as far back as his Motherwell days beforehand. That’s why I predict this latest managerial appointment in Leith to be a cracking one. One that will last for the long term — and that hasn’t been the case for a while. Hibs is a club that for so long has failed to live up to its potential. The club hasn’t won a major honour since John Collins brought the League Cup home from Hampden, following a dominant 5-1 demolition of Kilmarnock, back in 2007. Those days right now seem long gone for Hibs fans. Nevertheless, Easter Road is a state-of-the-art 20,000 seater stadium. The club owns a £5 million training complex. Although the transfer budget is nowhere close to what it used to be, it is still a respectable one for Scotland, and Butcher will have far more pennies to spend on new players than he ever did during his time in the highland capital. In terms of club size of the two, there really is no comparison. But in football, the size of a club on paper doesn’t guarantee you to win anything.
So what can Butcher offer and what does he need to do? There is no doubt he sees the potential in the club, views the position as a great opportunity, as well as a new beginning. Right now, just shy of the halfway mark in the 2013/14 campaign, Hibs are currently the lowest scorers in Scottish football’s top flight. That needs to change. Come January, I see Butcher foraging into the transfer market for a new centre half, creative central midfielder and goalscoring striker. That’s right, the spine of the team. As for me, right now there simply isn’t one. It wouldn’t surprise me if he swamps for the services of some of his previous players in Inverness either. He could do a lot worse than bring the likes of McKay and Foran to his new club.
Prior to then though, Butcher needs a quick fix. He needs to make Hibs hard to beat again and install some new ideas to the attacking side. He needs to reign in the fiery James McPake and turn him into the dominant defender he can be — Butcher wasn’t a bad one of those in his day. Players like Kevin Thomson and Scott Robertson need to get their confidence back. Liam Craig needs to start showing the form that won him his move from St Johnstone. He has done so in flashes, but not often enough. Hibs need Paul Cairney back in the team and driving at opposing defences again. For me, alongside youngster Alex Harris, Cairney is the only creative midfielder on the books right now. And somehow, just somehow, Butcher needs to get a hatful of goals out of net-shy strikers James Collins, Paul Heffernan and Rowan Vine. Easier said than done I’d imagine. Craig is the club’s joint top scorer this season with three alongside Heffernan. Collins has two. Robertson has one. Vine has nil. It doesn’t make for good reading, and quite simply, needs to improve — Butcher knows that.
Whilst in Inverness, Terry Butcher managed to win 86 out of his 207 games in charge. Well over a 40% win rate. And for about three quarters of all those games, he was undefeated. All this at what is arguably one of the smallest club’s in Scottish football’s top flight. Inverness fans may disagree these days.
There were some lows though. Butcher was relegated with Inverness once, and then took the team back up from Division 1 at the first time of asking. And let’s face it, he achieved all that with very limited resources as previously discussed.
Hibs will offer him greater resources. The chance to go and prove himself to be the best manager in the country. That might well be the case already. And personally, if god forbid Ally McCoist’s day was ever to come to an end as Rangers boss, I’d love to see the former Ger take over at my team. In the meantime, he’s got a job on in the capital. It’s going to be a tough one, but my goodness it’s a great one. Will Terry Butcher be the chief that puts sunshine back on Leith? My prediction: an affirmative yes.