It was revealed on Monday morning – not least during the club’s open training session at Easter Road – that goalkeeping coach Jon Busch had left the club. On Monday afternoon there were rumors that key sponsorship partner SportemonGo had gone under and by nightfall Chris Mueller’s proposed return to MLS became public.
Tuesday brought confirmation that SportemonGo did in fact have SportemonGone and that Roy Keane was not a candidate for the management vacancy.
So the club are still working on a new boss, meandering through to the end of the Scottish Premiership season with three dead rubbers imminent and have largely had a campaign to forget.
We’re far from having a broken badge in newspaper territory, but things feel like they’re on a razor’s edge. The summer would have been crucial if Hibs had only been concerned with a new management team and a few players; now it feels even more important.
Given that Hibs had tried unsuccessfully to secure Mueller’s services last summer, there was growing anticipation when he finally arrived on the Scottish coast that he would be the man to kick-start Hibs’ stuttering league campaign. He made his debut with an arduous overtime win in the fourth round of the Scottish Cup against Cove Rangers. He played 90 minutes of the 120 in attack and won the Man of the Match award. Promising signs from his first game in Europe.
Martin Boyle, who was watching from the stands that night, left for Saudi Arabian club Al-Faisaly the next day. But in none of his other 14 green-white games was the supposed right winger used in his favorite position.
Was this a signing by a manager – Jack Ross – for a specific position in his system that failed by a new boss – Shaun Maloney – using alternative tactics? Or, more likely, he just wasn’t settling in a new country and was struggling with a lack of playing time?
Mueller’s expected departure will free up a re-signing salary (but not the mythical £10,000-a-week, btw) and will be filed in the same ‘took a risk, didn’t work out’ folder as Shaun Maloney’s appointment as manager.
“I think we should see other sponsors”
When rumors of SportemonGo’s demise surfaced late Monday, it wasn’t particularly surprising. Many of these cryptocurrency and NFT laden sponsorship deals don’t last long for a variety of reasons. Some fans had already expressed their concerns about the agreement, prompting the club to issue a statement to reassure fans that they were not attempting to monetize fan engagement and the Hibs fan token is essentially a form of memorabilia for the 21st century.
Many remained undecided. The club should be commended for exploring different types of connections – it wasn’t long ago Hibs didn’t have a sponsor on the front of the shirt, remember – and for skirting problematic ones like vaping partners and making sure the Club’s Community Foundation of Deals profits with betting companies, but NFTs are a far more murky industry.
Considering how many different connections Hibs have announced this season, most of these have been relative hits rather than misses and the important part was that no fans have been let out of the bag and apparently neither has the club.
It will likely serve as a warning for future partnerships. Cryptocurrency agreements are unlikely to disappear from the football landscape anytime soon, but there must be better ways to do so.
After last week’s informal discussions with potential candidates in London, we can expect an update from the Board on the search for a new manager soon. It won’t be Keane; We know so much but the pressure is mounting on the board to make the right call for the hot seat.
Owner Ron Gordon is due back in the capital by the weekend, which should allow the process to move to the next phase: a shortlist.
But if finding the right man before this week was important, it’s more important than ever that Hibs make the right decision.
The right things have been said about the search for an experienced manager with knowledge of the British football scene, but the club must deliver; especially given the failed Maloney experiment, failed Mueller transfer, failed SportemonGo partnership and failed Top 6 push.
Ross always talked about fine margins in matches. It could be argued that fine margins kept Hibs out of the top half of the table, or perhaps there would have been a moment of sliding doors had Boyle stayed or Kevin Nisbet hadn’t picked up a serious injury.
Maloney might have held out if Boyle and Nisbet’s trajectories had been different. But that’s football and clubs have to be prepared for all eventualities.
In this case, it wasn’t Hibs. In the future they must be.
Essentially, Hibs need a football equivalent of the “Build Back Better” vision put forth by current US President Joe Biden just before his inauguration; a six or seven point plan they can share with fans, outlining the club’s goals for next season and the longer-term future.
At the moment, one of the main criticisms from the fans is an apparent lack of orientation in the club, especially in the park. Outside the park, improvements are being made at the training center while the hospitality rooms in the main grandstand on Easter Road are undergoing a major refurbishment.
Football fans are fickle, but also very proud of their club. They want a team to do business at the park and for the majority that’s all they want.
If Hibs gets the right manager appointment and makes it a successful summer transfer window and it impacts the park, most fans will forgive the occasional circus of the 2021/22 season.
But they need to start doing things right right away.