The summer is upon us and while fans usually speculate on who they may or may not sign for the new season, for more than half the SPL its all going to be about who will be in charge at their club. Of the teams that finished in the top six only champions Rangers and Hearts will have the same man at the helm come kick off, and even that has time to change.
This might not be the last time this line is used in the coming weeks but nostalgia and affection for an old club has seen the first SPL vacancy filled sign put up while leaving another one open. John Hughes appointment at Hibernian has caused an initial positive reaction amongst followers of the Leith club and a man who comes across with an unshakeable faith in his own ability has voiced that he has big plans.
For the last six years ‘Yogi’ has been the primary reason for the establishment of Falkirk as an SPL team known for playing good passing football while nurturing promising youngsters and future internationalists. When he first took charge at Falkirk along with Owen Coyle, whose reputation continues to soar after a fantastic season with Burnley, Falkirk were still playing at Brockville, a decrepit shell of a ground, and were trying in vain to get into the SPL after being denied promotion in 2003 due to failing the SPL ground criteria of having a 10,000 all-seated stadium.
However in 2005 with new criteria and a 6,000 all seated stadium in place for the following season Falkirk gained promotion to the SPL under the sole guidance of Hughes after Coyle’s departure to former club Airdrie United. Hughes’s young team soon became known for playing pretty passing one touch football and in there first season back in the top flight they successfully avoided relegation.
In the following seasons Hughes continued to stamp his mark not just on the park but off it, he personally oversaw the moving of Falkirk’s training facilities to a state of the art complex based at Stirling University. He also encouraged the board to spend money on the clubs youth teams while also getting backing in the transfer market when required. He also shrewdly used the loan market to get some of the best young talent from the Premiership before the player would become out of his and Falkirk’s reach.
At the start of the 2008 season there was a sense of great optimism that Falkirk were about to break into the top 6 after complimenting the young talents of Scott Arfield, Darren Barr and Thomas Scobbie with experienced players like Neil McCann and Jackie McNamara. However almost from the out set Falkirk seemed to struggle. Pressure began to build as some Bairns fans started to doubt the man who had taken them so far, but to the credit of the Falkirk board they maintained the faith and Hughes responded by ensuring SPL survival on the last day of the season, and taking them to a Scottish Cup Final and ensuring the clubs first ever trip into European competition.
However after six years did John Hughes maybe decide he couldn’t take the club any further? He was told there would be no money for new signings and that he would have to lower his wage bill. With the team in obvious need of refreshing it appears that both the club and the manager felt their relationship had reached an end even before Hibernian made another pitch for their former captain a year after being turned down.
So what have Hibernian gained in their new manager? Firstly a man who has made no secret of his ambitions to one day test himself in England, and if reports are to be believed he was a wanted man down south. His ambitions though do not just lie with his future but his present and he has already stated that he believes he can succeed where Mixu Paatelainen failed by convincing Steven Fletcher and Rob Jones not to go south to the land of milk and honey.
He’s also stated that he will continue with his passing, attacking philosophy. It immediately endeared him to the Hib’s fans who crave entertainment on the pitch, though the fact that he is a former captain and perceived as a die hard Hibee has already earned him their backing. There is no doubt that there would only of been one club outside the Old Firm that Hughes would of sacrificed a move down south for and that is Hibernian. Time will tell if the partnership will pay dividends but it is fair to assume that Hughes will not be looking to taint his relationship with the fans by not bringing success to a club that he loves.
As for Falkirk, Hughes has recommended his former players Neil McCann and Jackie McNamara for a joint role at the club and if they go on to have as much success as Hughes and Owen Coyle are having, then it could be the perfect parting gift for the Bairns from ‘Big Yogi’.