In one way, John Hughes is irreplaceable.
"We'll miss the character," said John Collins, Livingston's director of football. Hughes is a bullish personality, loud and opinionated, and his departure for Hartlepool United is a setback for the West Lothian club because he and Collins understood each other implicitly. They were old friends, and when Collins was offered the opportunity to revise every aspect of Livingston, he immediately asked Hughes to take charge of the first team.
Now, Collins must find a successor who matches up to his former Celtic team-mate. As much as looking for somebody who shares Hughes' beliefs, Collins is searching for somebody who agrees with his own philosophies on how a team should play, how individuals should be coached, and how the football ethos of a club should be established. What worked so well for the pair was that they both understood the game to mean the same thing: entertainment and faith in certain ideals.
Loading article content
"It's a loss for Livingston but an even bigger loss for Scottish football because there are so few top quality, entertaining coaches working in our country who play football the right way," Collins said of Hughes' decision to leave for England. "We'll make sure that the person who replaces John will be exactly the same, my mould of playing football, managing and coaching the way we have been doing since the day I got in the door. That won't change, the philosophy, the belief, the methods on the training pitch and what we're trying to produce will all continue. The method will continue.
"It's a challenge. I've got people in mind so we'll see where it goes. We may already have them at the club, we'll have to wait and see; it might not be too long a hunt. We'll look in-house to see what we've got. I know the coaches here very well, but there will be lots of good coaches looking for jobs. That will be the next challenge. There's a lot of sadness seeing John go, but he wanted the opportunity in England, it's something he's always wanted to do."
Hughes' erstwhile assistant, Gareth Evans, will take charge of the first team, while Collins will continue to help on the training ground, as he does with all the club's age-group teams. Evans is a candidate for the job, and has the benefit of already being immersed in the culture that Collins has sought to implement since his arrival last February.
Collins was granted free rein to apply the principles he considers important to a club's development. As well as how the game is played – short passing, good technical skills – players must behave in the right manner on and off the pitch. He believes "fantastic strides" have been made, and the loss of Hughes is at least a validation in the work that they have been doing.
"They need to be the right human being with the right beliefs," Collins said of the qualities he will look for in Hughes' successor. "I work closely with the manager on the training pitch, so it's got to be somebody who 100% buys into it. We're not a club that one week plays football and then the next week kicks it up the park, or asks different things from the players in all the different age groups, from under-13 up. Every coach and player knows what's expected of a Livingston player on the pitch and on match days. It won't change, but finding the right people is always the challenge.
"There's no rush. The players know what's required, I speak to them every day that I'm there. They'll want to know who their boss is going to be, but they'll be understanding. Patience is key, there's no point rushing into anything."