It has become a fairly wearisome routine to receive notice that a new manager has been appointed at Hibernian, nine individuals having assumed the role in the last decade. At least the Edinburgh club have become a dab hand at the whole affair; the trials and errors of unveiling the likes of Franck Sauzee, Bobby Williamson, Tony Mowbray, John Collins, Mixu Paatelainen, John Hughes and Colin Calderwood in recent years having ensured the process has been refined almost to the point of perfection. If only the fortunes of those coaches had followed a similar trend.
Yesterday it was Pat Fenlon’s turn to pose in front of the cameras with chairman Rod Petrie and speak enthusiastically about his ambitions for Hibs. The sight was all so familiar, and it was hard not be cynical when Petrie insisted that he had looked into his new manager’s eyes and seen “a winner”. Just what had seen in the eyes of the last lot?
The Irishman does arrive with a reasonably impressive pedigree – he has won five league titles in his nine years as a coach – but, perhaps more importantly, he has also suffered a few hardships along the way. His final season at Bohemians was beset with financial difficulties – a fact which likely expedited any discussions over compensation prior to his move to Hibs – while his time at Derry City proved less than fruitful. In 2007, he took over one of Ireland’s biggest clubs, with one of the league’s biggest budgets, but failed to translate that into success on the pitch and he resigned just five months into his contract. Perhaps he is the ideal fit at Easter Road, after all.
His success in Ireland will have made Fenlon an attractive option for Petrie and the rest of the Hibs board, but it is the experience he garnered during the more trying times of his career which will be of greater value in Edinburgh. “Last season [at Bohemians] we went from having a budget of about £1.9m to under £250,000. It is a big difference and is something you have got to get used to very quickly,” said Fenlon. “It is a big challenge here and they are not in a position they should be in. But that doesn’t matter in football and you’ve got to work hard to get out of that situation.”
That is a perilous one at the moment. Hibs sit just two points off the bottom of the Clydesdale Bank Premier League and, whether he feels the club should be there or not, Fenlon will get a better idea of the scale of the task he has taken on when he takes in today’s match with St Johnstone from the stand. Billy Brown will take charge as caretaker at McDiarmid Park, before learning if he is to be retained as part of the coaching staff early next week.
“I’ve spoken to Billy, we had a brief meeting,” said Fenlon. “I don’t think me being around for this game would be particularly helpful and we can get in on Monday morning and get to work. I’ve given a lot of thought to it [the coaching team] but I will sit down and speak to everybody on Sunday or Monday and people will know then. I have my own ideas, but I let them get on with this game.”
Appointing his backroom staff is not the only priority for the Irishman. He inherits a squad which is low on both league points and morale, and will have been informed that there is little room left in the budget to make sweeping changes to his squad in January. In individuals such as Garry O’Connor and Leigh Griffiths, who is on loan from Wolves, he has players with precocious ability, but the change which needs to be made to the attitude of a side who have looked so listless this season is going to have to be instigated by him.
“Obviously there is a lack of confidence there at the moment and that is something we have got to rectify quickly,” he said. “We need to build them up and get them back to enjoying their football, but that is something we need to assess over a period of time, sit down and have a look at what’s going on. Then I’ll put my own slant on it and change some things around.”
That is something which has proven to be beyond a number of managers already, but Fenlon has received some early support from a manager he will come to see a lot of during his time in Scotland. “Dundee United were after him a year or two ago and I think he’s a good choice for Hibs,” said Neil Lennon, the Celtic manager. “He has been very successful at Bohemians and I think he’s very knowledgeable about the game. I don’t think it will faze Pat coming to the SPL. He’s coming to a good club and at the right time because the only way is up for Hibs.”