The Calderwood Conundrum
During the summer, when time is often measured in the latest player transfer rumours rather than in minutes passed, we have become acclimated to the concept of a player having his head “turned” and wanting to leave his current club of employ. In the English Premiership, Arsenal have endured seemingly countless summers of speculation on when club captain Cesc Fabregas will leave for Spain in a genetic quest to have his DNA properly aligned at the Camp Nou. Tottenham Hotspur are currently enjoying a similar spot of bother with Luka Modric feeling a crick in his neck, looking across London from White Hart Lane to the European nights that are regularly hosted at Stamford Bridge. These and other potential higher profile player movements garner the majority of silly season coverage amidst those less sensational ones that likely comprise a bulk of the overall transfer activity during any given summer. The tie that binds the tales of Fabregas, Modric, and others is typically written that a new club gives them greater opportunity to develop their games or win more silverware. Put simply, the grass that they have been playing on looks dry and brown compared to the luscious green variety on the other side.
Somewhat peculiarly, of all the digital ink spilled over Scottish club Hibernian’s transfer season thus far, most of it continues to be splashed out regarding the club’s manager rather than its players. While the returns of prodigal sons Ivan Sproule and Gary O’Connor garnered some attention, the ongoing saga of whether it will be Colin Calderwood managing them when Hibernian see Old Firm behemoth Celtic visit Easter Road for Hibs opening SPL match remains the primary transfer rumour around Leith. Despite only having been at the helm of the Scottish side since last October, it appears the Scot already wants to call time on his stay in Edinburgh upon having – in transfer parlance – his head turned by opportunities presented both at Birmingham and Nottingham Forest in the English Championship. Those potential positions in England, though, are in a subordinate capacity to Chris Hughton and Steve McClaren, respectively, which makes one question why a relatively young and somewhat promising manager would be interested in what appears to be an occupational demotion.
Admittedly, Calderwood has encountered a rough spell during his tenure with Hibs, going winless for nearly a month to start before a sensational 3-0 victory over Rangers at Ibrox early November seemed to placate slightly nervous supporters. After the club was unable to poke its head into the top half of the table before the dreaded split, though, the Cabbage slumped to a 10th placed finish in the table, recording but a lone point over their final five matches. By late January Calderwood was rumoured to have submitted his resignation, but he and the club swiftly dismissed such speculation. Despite this rather inauspicious debut managing in the Scottish Premier League, Hibs chair Rod Petrie fiercely supports his 46 yr old gaffer, recently issuing a strongly-worded statement calling for Birmingham and Forest to definitively drop their interests and saying that Steve McClaren’s continued participation in the matter was getting him into “dangerous territory.” So, Calderwood is not being pushed out of Easter Road but instead is being told by Petrie and others to be Hibs’ manager as his current arrangement states.
Why then would he find being an assistant manager in England more appealing? Is there something more rotten in Scotland than in Denmark?
Prior to Calderwood stating his desire to return south being largely motivated by a desire to be closer to family, the question remained an open one, and in some respects, it persists in remaining open. Observers of the Scottish Prem wondered aloud if this was evidence of Scotland’s eroding stature in the game – that an assistant’s job in the second division of England is a better shout than manager of an SPL side – or if there was something more intriguing happening behind closed doors at Easter Road. As to the first matter, superficially that would appear to be the case, but considering Calderwood’s age and past experiences managing in England, moving to be either Hughton’s or McClaren’s assistant should not be construed as an indictment on Hibernian or the Scottish Premier League. Having spent his entire playing and managerial career somewhere within the English leagues until the leap north, Calderwood’s professional ties remain south of the border, as does the prospect of taking the helm of a club in the more lucrative English Premiership. At 46 years of age, Calderwood might still have time on his hands to spend another year as an assistant, have his name attached to either Birmingham or Nottingham Forest’s promotion to the Premiership, then either spend another season as assistant manager there or move on to guide his own Championship club to the Prem the following season. Former Hibs manager Tony Mowbray followed an almost similar path, departing Easter Road to later guide West Bromwich Albion to the top flight, while Hughton performed the feat, though slightly out of order. McClaren owed his gig at Middlesbrough to time he spent on the bench alongside Sir Alex Ferguson while Manchester United won trophy after trophy from 1999 to 2001. So, angling for a move away from the SPL to the English Championship appears less to be a lateral transfer for Calderwood but instead a definite step down for the present to potentially be rewarded with a higher step upward on the managerial ladder in England. As this is likely the Scot’s eventual goal, cutting the cord now in Scotland enables him to be more noticeable and employable to top flight English clubs sooner.
Besides, if one stays managing in the Scottish Premier League too long, one might turn into Gordon Strachan.
Respecting the second point on any potential shenanigans at the club, nothing yet has materialized. Being in the Scottish Premier League and not one of the Old Firm, Hibernian annually operates in small figures, largely generating any profit from the sale of talented players the club promoted from its youth academy while maintaining transfer budgets approaching zero as the club hangs onto around £7 million in debt. The Leith club looks more secure now than in years past, though, having produced several years of profit from those player sales and having learned its lessons about spending money it did not have after the collapse of Setanta placed it and several other SPL clubs in dire straights. During the January transfer window, while Calderwood was rumoured to be tendering his resignation, he was given the authority to bring in as many new players as he felt he needed to improve the club’s chances in beating the split and begin shaping the squad as he saw fit, which tends to signify there is little standing in the way of him moulding Hibs into his club to command. While the relationship between he and Petrie might be strained at the present owing to the persistent stories of his eminent departure, Calderwood appears to be on good terms with his chair and afforded as much free reign as Hibernian’s financial structure will allow.
Now, while Calderwood asserts he wants to leave Hibs to manage closer to home, this might be the weakest argument for him wishing to dump Hibs. Just as we are accustomed to the transfer concept of having the head turned, so to are we conditioned to be slightly cynical when someone in football claims something resembling homesickness as a justification for any action. In an age where a footballer can hand in a transfer request, questioning his club’s aspirations only to be rewarded with a better paying contract to rescind his request, and when a well paid player’s repeated cries for missing his family might be construed as part of an act perpetrated by a puppeteer of ill-repute to get his client even more money, Calderwood’s justification falls on ears too deaf from the repeated howls of “Wolf!” in the recent past. As Mr. Petrie indicated in his warning to the English clubs to keep away from his manager, the same agent for Steve McClaren also represents Colin Calderwood, thus couching his desire to move south in terms of the business of career advancement and higher royalty fees as opposed to this being a matter of the heart.
In the main, most Hibs fans anticipate Calderwood’s departure and only hope the “transfer fee” approaches a decent sum for the club’s use. Most might even be questioning Petrie’s insistence on retaining him, given he wants to leave Easter Road and that his time there has not been that pleasant as supporters witnessed his squad struggle last season. For them, the best resolution for the club would see Calderwood’s transfer concluded as quickly as possible to allow time for a new manager to prepare the side for a rapidly approaching league campaign. Perhaps in that way, the Hibees won’t be caught with their shorts down around their ankles when the Bhoys blow into town. And for whichever reason the Scot wishes to use to flee from Easter Road, they probably care little as they have already turned their heads to see who will be Calderwood’s successor.