Will Terry, Butcher Inverness To Rescue Hibs?

New Hibs boss could head hunt his old players in January

By Johnny Connelly

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After two weeks of poker-faces and media speculation, the cat’s out the bag, and Terry Butcher has been confirmed as the new manager of Hibernian Football Club. The ferociously passionate Englishman has left Inverness (albeit with a heavy heart), and taken on a new challenge and adventure with a huge club in the capital.

Butcher has proven himself to be a capable manager in recent years, most recently propelling a club of reasonably small stature like Inverness Caledonian Thistle to 2nd in Scotland’s top flight, with very little resource at his disposal.

The lure of the being invited to manage a club that has the history, fanbase, stature and potential resources to become a force in Scotland proved too much to refuse for Butcher, but many suspect that the measure of his success will be based on the players he brings in, rather than what he can do with the current squad. 

When we take a look at the Inverness starting XI that faced Hibs last week, we see that Butcher signed 9 of them, and brought the other two through as youth players. That apart, the remarkable thing about Butcher’s Inverness team is that he didn’t spend a penny in transfer fees. 

This shows us that Butcher has the ability to identify top players on a shoe-string budget, and motivate them to compete with and often defeat the best the league has to offer.  Given the success he’s had with the core unit at Inverness, all eyes will be on his transfer dealings in January to see if he attempts to bring any of his Caley Thistle players down the road to Edinburgh. 

Given that HIbs are the lowest scoring side in the SPFL, perhaps a goalscorer will be top of Terry Butcher’s wish list at his new club? If so, there can be fewer hotter properties than Inverness and indeed the SPFL’s top scorer, Billy McKay. The nippy striker has found the net 10 times so far this season, and is contracted to the Highland club until 2015, so any move would require a substantial transfer fee (as Butcher admitted only a few months ago: http://www1.skysports.com/football/news/11795/8972286/)

 Perhaps the attacking prowess of young Aaron Doran will be at the forefront of Butcher’s transfer plans? The 22-year old Irishman has been a hit since his move from Blackburn Rovers, more so this season than ever before. His pace, energy, and ability to use the ball well at both ends of the field has made him an invaluable asset for Caley Thistle, but he too is tied up in a contract there until 2016. Again, a transfer fee would be required to seal the deal, assuming of course the player wanted to make the switch. 

Leaking goals has been an issue for Hibs this season, with vulnerability on the wings clearly visible. Will Butcher opt to bolster his squad by hunting down an old full back of his? If so, would he consider going after either Graeme Shinnie or Carl Tremarco? Shinnie has rarely been displaced since coming through as a youth player, and Tremarco’s tough tackling style has helped him hold down a regular spot in the Caley Thistle team. Shinnie is tied up until the summer of 2015, but Tremarco’s contract is set to expire in the summer so he’d appear to be the more easily obtainable player. 

Terry Butcher will know in his mind exactly how he plans to go about galvanising his Hibs squad. The limits of his transfer budget in January, and indeed the summer could have an effect on who he buys, but history has taught us to treat his signing policy with respect. 

The well respected Englishman is relishing his new challenge, if what he said to the press the other day is to be believed:  “It was a simple decision really. I wanted to be at a bigger club and that is no disrespect to Inverness. 

“The training facilities, the stadium, the fan base and the potential was just too much for me to say no to.”

“I’m excited about the future and what we can achieve at Hibernian,” concluded Butcher.

Perhaps shrewdly tying up his prized Caley Thistle assets up on longer deals could come back to haunt him? Or could the wily manager surprise us all again by unearthing more gems from the English lower divisions? 

Whichever tactics he deploys to reverse the fate of the club will have full backing from the fans, but he’ll have to move swiftly to get off to a positive start, and he’ll no doubt do everything in his power to avoid becoming the 8th head to roll at Easter Road in as many years. 

Your move Terry…

Decision time for Butcher

Tel looks bound for the capital, but is it the right move for him?

By Johnny Connelly
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In stark contrast to the sentiments expressed by the man last week, Inverness Caledonian Thistle manager Terry Butcher looks set to become the next manager of Hibernian.

Those of you who listened in to The Football Show on PLZSoccer.com last Saturday will have heard Butcher describe the rumours connecting him to the vacant post at the much maligned Edinburgh club as “pure speculation”. He continued on, saying that the only people talking about him leaving his current position were “you boys (journalists present)”, and concluded by saying “I’ve brought these players here, I’m staying here.”

It appears the old cliché, “a week is a long time in politics”, also rings true for the beautiful game. Widespread reports have connected Butcher with the Hibs job, and the media juggernaut appears to be gathering momentum on this matter.

Given the troubles and inconsistencies that Hibs have faced in recent years, it’s widely agreed that a manager who’s as capable as Terry Butcher would have a positive effect, and could steady the ship at the Easter Road.

The reasoning for the approach by Hibernian is clear, but the appeal of the job to Terry Butcher, for me, is less apparent.

Terry Butcher’s Caley Thistle side are flying high. They finished 3rd in the SPL last year, and are challenging for 2nd place this year. If Butcher could guide Inverness to a 2nd place finish, he’d be engraved into Highland folklore for generations to come. Given the lack of funds he’s had at his disposal, his achievements are nothing short of remarkable.

Surely Butcher can do no wrong if he stays where he is? Even if Caley Thistle slipped to mid-table mediocrity, he’d be unlikely to come under any major scrutiny, and would still be regarded as a top candidate for future roles thanks to his past achievements.

The charismatic Englishman would be unlikely to be given as much leeway if he makes the switch to the capital. The expectations at Hibs are high, given the stature of the club. For some reason or other, they’ve consistently underachieved, and the Easter Road hotseat has become something of a poisoned chalice in recent years.

Hibs have gone through 6 managers in 8 years. Butcher would seriously have his work cut out for him to buck the trend and deliver success there. Perhaps that’s the lure for him, to take a club on its knees, and transform them into a tenacious outfit, capable of challenging for honours.

Perhaps he wants to prove that his success at Inverness Caledonian Thistle hasn’t been a fluke? The money Butcher would get to spend at Hibs will be only fractionally greater (presumably) than his budget at Caley Thistle, with almost instant results demanded of him, and the overbearing character of Rod Petrie looming over him, potentially encroaching on his decision-making power at the club. Any success at Hibs would be as remarkable as anything he’s done at Caley Thistle, yet he could possibly receive less praise there, given the expectations of the club.

What’s the end game for Butcher? What’s his overall goal as a manager in Scotland’s top flight? It’s a fair assumption to make that it won’t be to win the title, given the current gulf between Celtic and the rest of the pack, so is his ultimate goal to guide a club to 2nd place? If so, then surely staying at Inverness, a team he’s spent years fashioning into an effective unit capable of challenging for such a position, would be a better bet.

Does he eventually want to make the leap to the English Championship? Again, if so, why not stay with Inverness Caledonian Thistle? Surely guiding a smaller club to 2nd or 3rd in the league would be perceived as a greater achievement than securing those positions for a bigger club like Hibs?

Barnsley came knocking for Butcher last year and he decided against it. If England is where he sees his future, then perhaps he sees it at a higher level than that of Barnsley.  Given what we know of Terry Butcher’s character, money would be unlikely to be the catalyst for any move in his management career, so the lure of a bigger challenge, at a bigger club, is widely regarded as what’ll see him make the switch to Hibernian.

The big Englishman have everyone on the edge of their seats as we await his decision on where his future lies. As chance would have it, Butcher’s Inverness Caledonian Thistle side will take on Hibs on Saturday.

Rod Petrie and the Easter Road faithful could experience first-hand, the strength and organisation that Terry Butcher brings to a team, and the Highland club could be taking one last look at the greatest manager they’ve had in their brief history so far.

Where will Butcher be managing this time next week? Only time will Tel.

Fletch Appeal

Strach saves the day, and Fletch could take us above and beyond

by Johnny Connelly

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If ever the influence of a single man was to be illustrated in the modern game of football, you’d need to go a fair distance to find a better example than the exhilarating start Gordon Strachan has made to the Scotland national squad. 

A matter of months ago, Strachan took over a Scotland side that was unquestionably on the ropes, with an apathetic support and a team verging on the dreaded ‘pot 5’ seeding position. Now, with a modest number of personnel changes, Scotland are resurgent, thanks to that insatiable, nippy belief Strachan has injected into the squad. 

In our last four competitive matches, we’ve won three (two of which were against the top seed in the group), and narrowly lost one. Strachan’s injection of belief into an ailing squad has shown just exactly what one man can do. This leads us to wonder, how much farther could we go with a top English Premiership striker firing on all cylinders. Enter, Steven Fletcher.

The big target man is now just days away from making his domestic return for Sunderland, and what a shot in the arm for Strachan’s men he’ll be if he stays injury free, and on top form for the national side. 

It’s forever been a complaint of the long suffering Tartan Army that we don’t have a world class striker (with the physical stature of Fletcher at least). The former Hibee’s Scotland career has been stunted due to disagreements with former managers, and long-term injuries, but we’re now ready to forget about all that, and get behind him, as he could be the man to fire us to Euro 2016. 

Throughout Fletcher’s career, he’s always been a goalscorer, and since his move to England, his rate has improved gradually, despite playing against increasingly difficult opposition.

Hibs – 156 apps, 43 goals (Goal every 3.6 games)

Burnley – 35 apps, 8 goals (Goal every 4.3 games)

Wolves – 61 apps, 22 goals (Goal every 2.7 games)

Sunderland – 31 apps, 12 goals (Goal every 2.5 games)

Scotland fans will be hoping and praying that this trend continues and transfers over to International level. 

His physical prowess and intelligence to read the game in that position will fill a void for Scotland that’s been there for over a generation. The introduction of that type of player gives us a threat in the air from set pieces, someone who can hold the ball up well, and someone who can bring other players into the game. 

The absence of that type of player has forced us to play pacey players as lone strikers, without any real physical dimension to our attacking play in the last third. Even against Croatia on Tuesday night, Strachan played a 5ft 10in Steven Naismith as something of a target man. Naismith, to give him his due, did incredibly well (as you’d expect with such a tenacious attitude to his play), but his talents in the side would ideally be utilised elsewhere. 

With Fletcher as the target man striker, players like Naismith, Jordan Rhodes and Shaun Maloney would ultimately feel the benefit. His ability to hold the ball up, and feed into a smaller, pacey striker/winger, could be the key to forging a successful striking partnership (something else we’ve lacked for a significant number of years).

At only 26, Fletcher’s best years are ahead of him. He’ll hopefully be coming to the peak of his powers for the next qualification campaign. He’s looking better all the time scoring more and more goals, and learning from experience in one of the best leagues in the world. He could be the key to our qualification hopes.

There’s much in the way of patience and hard work to follow for Scotland. It’ll be almost a year before we play another competitive match, but we all know, for Gordon Strachan, there’s no such thing as a Friendly. 

The fiery Scot will have his players pumped up to play USA in November, and whoever comes along before the Euro 2016 campaign kicks off. The Tartan Army will be in strong voice, the enthusiasm is brewing once more, and we could have a star striker to make all the difference.

Over to you Fletch.

 

The SPFL – Fan Fuelled Evolution

by Johnny Connelly

(As hosted on http://www.plzsoccer.com/news)

It’s been a long, long time coming, but we’ve successfully reformed the structure of our professional football league format in this country. It’s all kicking off this week, and not a minute too soon.

That arduous, seemingly never-ending string of weeks where we find ourselves with a gaping football hole to fill is almost at an end. We kid ourselves that pre-season friendlies, and even old Youtube clips of bygone years will anesthetise us throughout the summer, but the truth is, nothing but the real McCoy will do. In Scotland, the fans need football; but more importantly, the football needs fans.

This interdependency has never been more apparent than it is now. The dark cloud of doom that lurked over Rangers throughout the Craig Whyte/Charles Green/liquidation saga served as a stark warning that all clubs can fall victim to the perils of the business aspects of the modern game. Yet, at the other end of that turmoil, we saw glimpses of the finest element of our game, the unwavering and unquestioning support of the fans.

Clubs in our country have been plagued by problems of their own, but we’re fighting through it together as football fans. The news this week that Dunfermline’s long standing threat of liquidation could be at an end is huge shot in the arm for our wavering game. The fact that the CVA came from ‘Pars United’, an ordinary group of Dunfermline supporters, further enhances the remarkability of this particular happy ending.

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The New Way – Neil Doncaster showcases the new SPFL logo at Hampden

As we prepare to embark upon the new dawn that is the SPFL, it becomes apparent that fan power is more important than ever. Last season was resplendent with hints that the fans will have the final say when it comes to football in this country.

Last season we saw something of a siege mentality at Ibrox, as Rangers fans flocked to support the team in their darkest hour. Attendance records were challenged, and dare I say it, the much maligned Glasgow club seem to be through the worst of their troubles, all thanks to the fans.

Similarly, Dunfermline looked doomed just weeks ago, probably more so than Rangers, but the collective presence of likeminded fans have all but saved their club, albeit through the means of a CVA and by virtue of an empathetic set of creditors.

The SPFL’s big focus now should be channelling energy into finding a solution for Hearts. They too will sink or swim based on the actions of their fans. The effort and commitment so far from the Hearts fans has been overwhelming, and if they could somehow meet the desired monetary amounts to satisfy the creditors, we’d be witnessing a miraculous escape for one of our country’s most revered clubs.

Clubs defying the odds to survive thanks to fan power are perhaps somewhat sensationalised examples of what the common punter can achieve in the world of football. We can however, step back and see that the fans have the power to make the new SPFL a success, despite the apparent downgrading of our domestic game since the days of Larsson, Laudrup, De Boer, and Sutton.

As fans, we’ve faced debacles like the Setanta deal and uncertainties galore, yet here we are, on the brink of another glorious season. Excitement is cascading across the country in anticipation of the big kick off. Yes, there’ll be more problems, and yes, it’s far from the polished product that our neighbours across the border take in every weekend, but it can still be glorious in its own inimitable way.

Small steps are being taken in the right direction all the time. It’s looking positive for the start of the season, as there’s no clearer indication of support than a rise in season ticket sales. 7 of the 12 SPFL Premiership clubs have reported increases in season ticket sales so far, and another 3 SPFL Premiership clubs say their sales are on a par with last season.

Even without the presence of Rangers in our top division, the clubs do have something to attract their fans this season. Celtic, Motherwell and St Johnstone have a taste of European football. They’ll be looking to maximise their involvement this term, and ensure they get to participate again next time around.

Ross County and Inverness Caledonian Thistle will strive to continue their meteoric rise, challenging for 2nd place in the Premiership this season perhaps? Hearts, Hibs, Dundee United and Aberdeen will seek to right the wrongs of last season and finish in a position that befits their club stature; while St Mirren, Kilmarnock, and the new boys Partick Thistle will be well aware they’ve been touted to go down, so they’ll have fire in their bellies, and a will to escape the drop.

The road back to the big time for Scottish football is a long one, we may never get back to where we were, but football in this country is a labour of love. We’ll forever indulge in nostalgia, we’ll forever exaggerate the glory days, and we’ll forever dream of a product better than the one we current showcase.

Our excitement for football is insatiable, there’s nothing quite like those start of the season butterflies. This time around, we’ll take the bad news with a pinch of salt and remember that football is for enjoying.

It may not be perfect, but it’s our league, and we love it.