AC Milan, Beşiktaş Celtic, name the club, Hibs sporting director Graeme Mathie has probably had one of his Easter Road assets linked to them.
While head coach Jack Ross’ first-team squad return for pre-season next week, Mathie has been working hard behind the scenes to get everything in place for 2021/22 season. It comes off the back of a successful 20/21 campaign where Hibs finish third in the Scottish Premiership and ran Celtic close for second until the latter stages of the term.
League Cup semi-final and Scottish Cup final defeats to St Johnstone were tough to take, but in all, it’s been a successful 18 months at Hibs under Ross. In the midst of the Covid-19 pandemic, Ross has taken the club from the bottom six to Scotland’s top four. His players have attracted interest though, Celtic said to be keen on Josh Doig and Kevin Nisbet.
The latter has just played at Euro 2020 while Doig has been linked to AC Milan, members of the English Premier League’s top six and a host of other top clubs. Centre-back Ryan Porteous is said to be attracting Turkish interest from Beşiktaş while several youth players are wanted down south. Mathie tells NTOF that departure planning is part of the 21/22 strategy.
He said: “It’s part of the planning for this season. Our sheet of players is colour-coded. We have some that we are expecting to come to us and say that they want to move to other things because they aren’t playing as much. There might be ones who have decided it’s time to go.
“Then we have the assets that you would expect people to be interested in. It’s about trying to react to any of these situations at any given time. I have no idea how many transfer windows I have been involved with. I always say, I had a full head of hair when I started this job, now it’s going the other way!
“Things can change so quickly. I don’t think we were sat here this time 12 months ago thinking Daryl Horgan was going to go to Wycombe Wanderers. He was in and about the first-team, had a year left on his deal and was starting matches. It came out of nowhere for him to earn more money and play in the English Championship.
“Things like that always happen in the summer and it would be wrong of us not to consider that teams will be interested in our players. They will definitely be on radars at other clubs with a view to a transfer. It’s incumbent on us to prepare as best we can.
“But hopefully everything aligns and the players we want are affordable and available at the time where, inevitably, one or two might move on over the next period of time. We need to get all the ducks in a row at the exact time we need them to be.”
Hibs will be active in bringing players to the club too. Already they have signed Daniel Mackay from Inverness while there are a few areas which need strengthened elsewhere before the club’s UEFA Europa Conference League campaign kicks off in July. Some of this business will be dependent on the exit door.
Mathie explained: “Daniel Mackay was a good one for us to bring in early as we have been trying to get him over the last period of time. But there’s two or three other areas we would like to improve upon as well for the starting team. That’s then preparing for some of the movement that might happen.
“We are in a good place just now. If the league started tomorrow, we could put out a competitive team, and that’s without doing much. We have a good core to the squad and we have good control over contracts. But we want to try and improve it. That’s what we are working on.”
Nisbet will be a key talking point over the summer after his links to a Celtic move. The striker turned out for Scotland at the Euros, following his first international goal in a friendly against Netherlands. It’s been a turbulent 12 months on and off the pitch for Nisbet, joining Hibs from Championship club Dunfermline last summer.
A move to England with Birmingham City fell through in January, but Mathie says the striker has shown resolve: “Part of the conversation I had with Kevin before he moved here was challenging him to come to Hibs, play well and get a cap for Scotland in a season where the Euros were on.
“There’s a lesson in here for younger players too. In January, Kevin was disappointed not to get his move. That was public. He didn’t play for four or five games after that, but once he got back in, he took his chances and contributed significantly to our end of the season.
“He got to Euro 2020 with Scotland and then scored against Netherlands, which got him on the pitch at the Euros. Jamie Maclaren joined us from having not played much in Germany, an Australian international. He ended up going to a World Cup. Part of what we want to do is give players a platform for their international careers.”
In all, the picture look bright at Hibs. Mathie is leading the way on modern-day thinking behind the scenes while Ross is ticking off objectives on the park, backed by ambitious owner Ron Gordon. Players may come and go, but Mathie believes Ross is more than capable of delivering continued success at Hibs after a first third-place finish since 2005.
The Easter Road sporting director said: “It has been a while since Hibs finished third. The players found different ways to win games and that’s one of our selling points for guys coming to Hibs. The Scottish Premiership is a tough league, every game is totally different. The cups were disappointing but part of my job is to look over progress.
“It’s undoubted that there has been over the last 18 months. When we put forward a shortlist of managers to replace Paul Heckingbottom 18 months ago, we wanted a coach who could win games, and Jack’s win record is good. We looked at turning losing situations into winning situations, and Jack’s career has shown that.
“It’s not surprising that he’s got a team on the pitch capable of winning games as that’s what he’s done at all the clubs he’s been at. We weren’t outside the top four all year last season and that was an achievement in itself. That takes a bit of doing.”
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