Pat Fenlon has spent just under two years at Hibernian in the Scottish capital now and the calls for his head are more audible now than they ever have been before. But with only a year left on his current deal, does it make any logical sense for Hibs to part with their manager?
Fenlon’s time with Hibs has been far from spectacular. Two successive bottom half finishes have been balanced out by two successive Scottish cup final appearances. As impressive as it is to reach back to back finals, an aggregate score of 8-1 (one of them undoubtedly the most humiliating result in the clubs 138 year history losing 5-1 to fierce city rivals Hearts) is hardly something Fenlon can use to defend his otherwise uninspiring tenure in Leith.
Did you know? Hibs were in fact the first British team to play in Europe. No, of course you didn’t. You know them as a club from Edinburgh who play in front of reducing crowds that are incapable of holding onto a manager for more than two seasons. The challenge a club like Hibs provide is to make the club relive their heady days of European conquest, not losing 9-0 to unconvincing Swedish outfits in Europa League qualifiers (a record Scottish aggregate loss). The Hibernian fans have accepted mediocrity for too long, and Fenlon has not done enough in his two years in Edinburgh to change this.
His list of signings echo the aforementioned point with guys like Tom Soares (now with League 2 Bury), Eoin Doyle (now with League 2 Chesterfield) and the infamous “Gambian Roberto Carlos” – full back Pa Kujabi (17 appearances, 1 red card, now without a club) all in and out of he club within 12 months and deservedly receiving brutal criticism for their lack of effort and commitment on the pitch. Quite frankly, he has a dreadful record of bringing in players who couldn’t give a hoot about Hibernian’s success or lack thereof.
However, Hibernian’s board is somewhat nationally notorious for having the tightest belt in the country. The managers are generally forced so to work with Bosmans, loan deals and their once lauded, now slightly less productive youth academy. A priceless example of this was the reason for John Collins resignation in 2007; of the £8.4m raised by the sales of youth starlets Scott Brown, Kevin Thomson and Steven Whittaker, only £350k was reinvested back into the squad. Five years down the line, the board are still having the same problems parting with their money, and there is valid case that Fenlon has not had it easy to build a squad capable of challenging for the top half of the league. To get 28 goals from on loan Wolves striker Leigh Griffiths and solid league and cup performances from teenage prodigies Ross Caldwell, Danny Handling and Alex Harris on a shoestring budget shows that Fenlon’s time at Easter Road has not been a complete failure.
It comes down to the aforementioned stinginess of the Easter Road boardroom. As rivals Hearts thrash about in the public eye like a fish out of water amidst financial meltdown, the effects of throwing away money needlessly are there for Hibs and other SPFL clubs to see, for example throwing away money on compensation deals by sacking managers with a year left on their deal!
The momentous and embarrassing results have clouded the occasional good times of Fenlon’s reign, but provided Hibs don’t let themselves spend too long in the lower reaches of the Scottish Premiership their fans needn’t worry.
Accepting mediocrity for one more season will be a reasonable sacrifice if it means Fenlon will leave for free, allowing someone who can take the club forward to come in and leaving money to ideally be reinvested in back into the squad.