After weeks of speculation, Jack Ross was unveiled as the new Sunderland manager on Friday.…
Alan Stubbs’ appointment as St Mirren manager has been met with a renewed sense of optimism among the Paisley side’s fans ahead of the new season. With a return to the Scottish top flight for the first time in three years to look forward to following their Championship title-winning campaign last term, the Buddies were in buoyant mood going into the summer, confident of continuing the club’s upward trajectory of recent months.
However, in the wake of Jack Ross’ departure to Sunderland, Saints supporters could have been forgiven for abandoning their enthusiasm and adopting a more cautious approach towards their aims for 2018/19.
Despite some surprising and somewhat exotic contenders having reportedly enquired about the vacant position, notably former Real Madrid midfielder Guti and ex-Barcelona and Ajax forward Patrick Kluivert, the Saints board moved quickly to dispel any rumours as chairman Gordon Scott reassured fans the priority was someone with knowledge of the Scottish game. Now, with former Hibernian manager Stubbs in place, there are plenty of reasons for St Mirren fans to regain their early excitement.
Interest in Jack Ross was predictable and expected after he guided Saints from the bottom of the Championship when he took over in 2016 to promotion last season, picking up the PFA Scotland Manager of the Year award in the process. Ross built a dynamic attacking side which comfortably saw off the challenge of Dundee United last season while playing an effective and exciting style of football. His knack for blending young players with experienced older heads made him an attractive proposition to many and Sunderland have undoubtedly secured a promising young manager capable of working similar miracles down south.
But, as memories of Ross’ time at St Mirren begin to fade, the philosophy he implemented still remains and Stubbs appears the perfect man to carry on the good work. Chief executive Tony Fitzpatrick described Stubbs as the “standout candidate” and a “fantastic fit for the football club”. He explained: “He fits in perfectly with the philosophy of the club of promoting young players throughout the team. Our youth policy is vital to us and he’ll be able to bring those players on.”
Stubbs’ record at Hibernian was impressive both from a results and player development perspective. With a 58% win ratio during his two years in charge of the Edinburgh club, he led them to second and third-place finishes in the Championship, losing out in the play-offs on both occasions. He also took Hibs into both domestic cup finals during 2015/16, losing to Ross County in the League Cup before winning the infamous Scottish Cup final against Rangers, Hibs’ first success in the tournament in 114 years.
After inheriting Terry Butcher’s dishevelled and confidence-stricken squad relegated in 2014, Stubbs immediately set about reinventing Hibs in the lower division by investing in young players. The former Everton youth coach signed Scott Allan from West Brom and Fraser Fyvie from Wigan, and brought in Dylan McGeouch on loan from Celtic. This excellent midfield trio were supported by the additions of full-back David Gray, who went on to captain the side to Scottish Cup glory, and Martin Boyle, who initially joined on loan from Dundee. Stubbs’ signing record in the capital must be commended and his success in the market was highlighted further when he snapped up Boyle and McGeouch on permanent deals, along with John McGinn, Darren McGregor, Marvin Bartley, Liam Henderson and Anthony Stokes.
Although Hibs missed out on promotion twice under Stubbs, his ability to identify and recruit such talented players on a modest budget is striking. Both McGinn and McGeouch have previously praised the influence of their former boss in convincing them to move to Easter Road and Stubbs’ achievements are demonstrated further by the fact that Neil Lennon’s current squad, which finished fourth in last season’s Premiership, still retains a significant core of players signed by his predecessor.
Coaxing the best out of academy prospects is an appealing trait which clearly resonated with the St Mirren hierarchy. The youth department is fundamental to the success of the club and recent years have seen a burgeoning crop of youngsters make their way into the first team. Several have subsequently left, including Kenny McLean, John McGinn, Jason Naismith, Kyle McAllister, Stevie Mallan and Lewis Morgan, and the inability to hold on to potential homegrown stars could be a concern for Stubbs. On the other hand, though, it may simply act as an example of the fresh talent he will have at his disposal as he prepares for his next challenge.
Of course, Stubbs himself is relatively young in the managerial game and there are questions over his lack of experience managing at the top level. After lifting the Scottish Cup in 2016, he resigned from Hibs and took over at Rotherham, lasting only 14 games before being sacked from the English Championship side. At 46 and having been without a club since that dismissal two years ago, his reputation may have been slightly damaged, but St Mirren have backed him with a three-year contract and he can only add to the intriguing group of managers currently working in Scottish football.
As a player, Stubbs claimed two Scottish league titles at Celtic while his fondness for a cup run as Hibs manager should further enthuse St Mirren fans still reminiscing of their own glory day, winning the League Cup in 2013. With his first game in charge of the Buddies just a month away, against Kilmarnock at Rugby Park in the League Cup, he must now start planning for what will no doubt be a difficult first season, but one which he will hope will offer more than simply a battle to avoid relegation.