THE last thing Hibernian fans probably want to hear right now is a former Hearts manager telling them their club is in the right hands.
George Burley, however, isn't just any old former Hearts manager.
For if there is anyone suitably qualified to vouch for Terry Butcher in the Hibs manager's time of need it is probably the man who played alongside him for a decade at Ipswich Town, then called upon him to be his assistant when he was appointed Scotland manager. Burley knew there would be flak in selecting a patriotic Englishman to sit in the dug-out beside him but did it anyway. That was how highly he regarded Butcher as a coach, tactician and man-manager.
Butcher will need to draw deep on all those attributes now. Six months after leaving Inverness Caledonian Thistle for the manager's job at Hibs, Butcher finds himself in a serious spot of bother. After finishing second bottom of the SPFL Premiership as a result of a quite alarming late-season slump, Hibs must now beat Hamilton Academical over two legs to retain their place in the top division. For a team that hasn't won a match since February, that seems quite a task.
High-pressure situations have tended to bring out Butcher's Hyde side. He has told most of the stories himself, from chasing referees, knocking lumps out of chairs and doors, and even once elbowing his manager in the face. He will bring all that passion and energy to these two matches in the hope of eliciting similar high-tempo performances from a group of players who have been woefully under-par in recent months. If, after all that, Hibs still fall short then Burley believes the blame shouldn't lie entirely at the door of the manager.
"Terry, as a player and as a manager - you couldn't get a bigger battler," Burley told Herald Sport. "He would always stick at it through thick and thin and that's what he'll now be asking his players to do. Terry's a big character and a likeable fellow, one who has got a lot of passion and enthusiasm for the game. He will do everything he can to motivate his players for these two massive games coming up. But they have to also believe in themselves - Terry can't do that for them. He can try to help them but the players owe it the manager, the club and the fans to put in the performances needed to keep Hibs in the top division. They have to stand on their own two feet and take responsibility for the situation they find themselves in."
It wasn't supposed to happen this way. When Hibs finally got their man after a lengthy, drawn-out pursuit, Butcher's remit was fairly simple: continue doing what you were doing at Inverness but on a bigger scale. The hope was that, through the strength of his personality alone, Butcher would be able to immediately transform a club that had been gripped by a debilitating malaise for the best part of a decade. The likes of John Hughes, Colin Calderwood and Pat Fenlon had all arrived at Easter Road with burgeoning reputations but none could steer this listing ship away from the rocks. To expect Butcher to make everything better in the space of six months was therefore unrealistic, Burley feels.
"It was a big challenge for him moving from Inverness to Hibs as, in the past 10 years or so, they haven't really reached the potential they should have as a big club," he added. "They improved the stadium and the training ground but unfortunately on the pitch it hasn't happened for them over the years. It will take time for Terry to put that right. These things don't happen overnight. It's not just the last few years they've struggled, it goes back much further than that. I'm sure Terry didn't anticipate being in this position when he took over but that's the reality of the matter. Six months was never going to be enough to rebuild the team."
Should Hibs fall, it will strengthen the argument that the Championship rather than the Premiership will be the division to watch next season. Hibs would have four derbies with Hearts - as well as four matches against Rangers - but Burley, whose time at Hearts in 2005 was brutally cut short with the team top of the Premier League, believes it would be anathema for Scotland's capital to have no team in the top flight. "Having worked in Edinburgh myself, it is a fantastic football city. Now that Hearts have been relegated because of the points deduction it would be a tragedy if Hibs were to go down as well. There would be no guarantees, either, that they would come straight back up," he said. "It is up to the players now to make sure they don't go down."