On-field struggles, disgruntled fans, bottom six league finishes. Hibernian have had their fair share of problems in recent years but the managerial appointment of the vastly-experienced Terry Butcher may just be the answer to all of their difficulties.
Pat Fenlon may have guided Hibs to successive Scottish Cup finals – and lost them both – during his two-and-a-half year stay in Edinburgh but the Irishman seemed a man resigned to his fate in recent months with the Scottish League Cup quarter-final loss to rivals Hearts proving the final nail in the coffin as far as supporters were concerned.
The 5-1 thumping to the Jambos at Hampden Park eighteen months ago has never been forgotten and was ultimately damage beyond repair. The humbling 9-0 aggregate defeat to Malmo, before the domestic season had even begun and their Europa League aspirations were realised, was another bone of contention which the beleaguered manager took the wrap for.
Fenlon’s resignation highlighted that he opted to jump before being pushed and since the vacancy was freed up, there has been only one man’s name on the lips of the Hibees.
54-year-old Butcher is a warrior figure in Scottish management, emboldened by his playing days at Ipswich and Rangers before going on to captain England in a seventeen-year career as one of the most feared defenders in the game.
And after the compensation package was tied up, the dotted line has now been signed. There is no doubt he will itching to get started, even though the international break will hamper his preparations somewhat.
His 23 years of experience as a manager will stand him in good stead and the times ahead at Easter Road will undoubtedly challenge his credentials to galvanise self-esteem and transform a mediocre club with a massive history to the next level – this is arguably his toughest assignment so far.
As Butcher watched Inverness beat an uninspiring Hibs 2-0 last Saturday from the stands, his feelings would have been mixed as to the excitement of working with the new infrastructure, training facilities, fan base and stadium at the Edinburgh club as well as the respectable status the club has within the Scottish game.
In contrast, an element of sadness that he could not see out the outstanding job he had started in the Highlands as their impressive start to the current campaign showed no abating signs.
Ever since arriving at the Tulloch Caledonian Stadium in January 2009, Butcher has had several obstacles to overcome which he has done so with overriding degrees of success. Within his first eighteen months in the post, he had preserved their place in the First Division before gaining promotion from the second tier to the SPL.
Butcher has always thrived on consistency, steel and style whilst bringing an entertaining brand of football which unfortunately was only able to be seen by only 6,000 on a weekly basis – the average home attendance at Inverness.
Guiding a threadbare yet united squad – composed on a shoestring budget – to their highest ever top-flight finish last term in fourth place was an astonishing achievement but perhaps will be one of Butcher’s biggest regrets having come ninety minutes away from Europa League qualification – and just a penalty shoot-out away from a League Cup final but saw Hearts progess instead in the semi-final held at Easter Road, ironically.
This season, Inverness have began in whirlwind fashion and led the table in the early weeks with Butcher and his troops providing a stiff challenge to Celtic’s runaway title ambitions. Another League Cup semi-final is on the horizon for the Highlanders too.
The tinge of pride when reflective of the way he shaped Inverness into a consistent top-six outfit and the poignant goodbyes he had to say will soon be a distant memory.
The exciting prospect of Hibernian being too good to turn down – and certainly does not come around every day. Now, the overriding question is whether he can transform Hibernian in the same way.
Chairman Rod Petrie was open in his assessment of the managerial options at his disposal, unsurprisingly selecting Butcher as ‘the outstanding candidate’, and his sheer delight after the confirmation was made suggests he only had one man in mind.
The one that clearly stands out from the rest.
The leadership and motivational skills adopted from his time as Three Lions skipper will benefit a Hibs side lacking in self-belief.
His ability to bring the best out of a small squad and fringe players, the tight ship he runs on the training ground and his presence on the touchline will be enough to influence any footballer.
Working alongside his trusty sidekick Maurice Malpas, who denied the chance to manage both Motherwell and now Inverness to remain alongside Butcher, will be beneficial to both the boss and the club to already have an instilled partnership with masses of knowledge regarding the Scottish game.
Butcher will bring fresh ideas to the table whilst winning the backing of fans – which Fenlon lost too often.
Stating in his first press conference, he ‘relishes the challenge ahead.’ An old cliche maybe but the regime he will bring to Hibs is nothing out of the ordinary. Working hard and developing players to take the club forward is what every manager sets out to achieve.
With football now significantly a results driven business, Butcher will be desperate to get off to a winning start against St Mirren in Paisley next weekend to end Hibs’ disappointing run of four straight defeats in all competitions, two of which were resided over by caretaker boss Jimmy Nicholl.
The much harder task facing him is restoring the shattered confidence among a talented squad that he has inherited, who have failed to live up to their potential so far this season.
Hibs have been renowned for turning form on and off like a tap, capable of producing the spectacular one week – beating St Johnstone away and drawing at home to Celtic this term – and lethargy the next – losing to a youthful Hearts and drawing at home to struggling Ross County.
Sitting seventh in the table, Hibs are the lowest scorers in all four Scottish divisions with strikers James Collins, Paul Heffernan and Rowan Vine yet to hit top form in the goals department to replace last season’s top scorer Leigh Griffiths as influential midfielder Liam Craig appears to have taken single responsibility in that respect with six strikes so far.
Another major issue for Butcher to cast his wand over is the woeful home form which has seen a meagre five wins at Easter Road in all competitions this calendar year, the last of which came on 24 September against a League One side in the cup.
Hibs will hope its the storm before the calm as Butcher settles into the hotseat which has changed hands ten times in the last sixteen years. For a club that has experienced many ups and downs in its past, the immediate future looks brighter than anticipated.
Signing two-and-a-half year deals, Butcher and Malpas are perhaps aware that Hibs is not necessarily a long-term project that requires a drastic turnaround. Just a sprinkling of the old magic dust should do the trick.
But with the troubles that have faced the Edinburgh outfit in recent times, installing Butcher to steady the ship is arguably the perfect fit for a team in desperate need of stability.