analysis He might be enigmatic but there seems little doubt Colin Calderwood is set to leave Hibernian, says Richard Wilson
T he only certainty Colin Calderwood revealed was that he is unsure about his future. At a pre-arranged press conference at Hibernian’s training ground, the manager only strengthened the expectation that he is about to return to England, probably to Birmingham City. “If someone offers you two bags of sweets,” he said, “you look in both before you choose.”
The remark is enigmatic, but then Calderwood has always seemed a little vague during his time at Easter Road. There can be a brusqueness to him that makes him seem withdrawn, and he has never appeared wholly settled in Scotland. After every weekend match, Calderwood drove back down to his family home in Northampton and, although his partner and children did not move with him to his previous post in Newcastle either, the separation was viewed as a lack of commitment, at least to holding the Hibs job long-term.
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With Steve McClaren keen to bring him back to Nottingham Forest as his assistant manager and development coach, and Chris Hughton wanting to appoint him his No.2 at Birmingham City, Calderwood has suddenly become a sought-after figure. An assertion that he wants to stay at Easter Road would have been enough to quell the speculation, but instead Calderwood talked around it, as if unwilling to make any kind of pledge other than to his own obligations.
“There hasn’t been any contact with the chairman here,” Calderwood said. “But there has got to be something within the story. I’m in a really fortunate position to have the chance, if I did. Do I have a good choice to make? It would be a very hard choice. Obviously the commitment the club have given me, in terms of bringing players in, means it would be a hard one to contemplate, walking away. But there has to be things you aspire to in your career path.”
Rumours about his future have stalked Calderwood since he arrived at Easter Road last October, mostly concerning his desire to be at Hibs and that he may even have considered resigning. He tended to weary of the speculation, but mostly brushed it aside. But he could never discard the general feeling that the job was one of opportunity for him.
He had applied for the position before and lost out to Mixu Paatelainen. When John Hughes was sacked early last season, it coincided with Calderwood’s growing frustrations at Newcastle, where he was Hughton’s assistant. The club were not prepared to commit either man to long-term contracts and, the week after Calderwood moved to Easter Road, Hughton lost his job. Sources who were close to the two at St James’ Park – Hughton and Calderwood were also team-mates together at Tottenham – are convinced that they will work together again at Birmingham.
That solution would also allow Calderwood to move nearer to his children and his new wife, having married for a second time during the summer. Had Hughton not been appointed at St Andrew’s, it is thought that Calderwood would have been prepared to return to the City Ground, where he was manager for two years before being sacked in December 2008. Even yesterday, McClaren was still waiting for a definitive response from the Scot, whose role would have combined working with the first-team and facilitating the development of youth team players into first-team squad members.
Calderwood is valued as a tactician and as a coach, although he can appear aloof at times. While Mike Ashley, the Newcastle owner, wanted to install his own management team, the players at St James’ Park always valued the work of Hughton and Calderwood. Even at Forest, where supporters came to bemoan the team’s cautious approach, the Scot is still highly rated. Whatever the choices, it seems certain that Calderwood is currently mulling over which move to make, rather than whether or not it is right for his career to remain at Easter Road.
“You sit and take stock of your options,” he said. “There is nothing too wrong in that. I don’t really want to be [evasive] – football being football things can happen in an instant. And I realise it can work both ways. At the minute it’s favourable to be Colin Calderwood – other times it is not. I hope the fans appreciate me being honest. Of course it is a consideration. Looking at those two things, the likelihood of getting back to the Premiership [is] a realistic achievable goal for both of them.”
He has had to deal with two of his players brawling during pre-season training last week, with Martin Scott accused of fracturing Sean Welsh’s cheekbone. Calderwood has also only made three signings – Garry O’Connor, Sean O’Hanlon and Ivan Sproule – while trying to rebuild a squad that lost several senior first-team players at the end of the last campaign.
Calderwood has also not replaced his own assistant, Derek Adams, who returned to the manager’s job at Ross County which he left last November to move to Easter Road. For now, Calderwood has only left his options open, but then maybe that says enough about what the future holds for him.
“It becomes a dangerous question for me to answer at the minute,” he said. “I don’t want to say anything which leads anyone to thinking that I am in the starting blocks and off. Until I have to make a decision then I am entirely happy here. I am grateful for the opportunity and the progress I hope we can make leads me to be in a good place. Hibernian fans understand that they have choices in their own life and you don’t dismiss anything until you have really thought about it.”