John Collins says Hibs academy ‘needs fixed not mothballed’

Former Easter Road manager critical of the number of top players the club have produced in recent years
Former Hibs manager John Collins had plenty of good young players to choose from during his time at Easter Road. Picture: John DevlinFormer Hibs manager John Collins had plenty of good young players to choose from during his time at Easter Road. Picture: John Devlin
Former Hibs manager John Collins had plenty of good young players to choose from during his time at Easter Road. Picture: John Devlin

John Collins has offered a damning assessment of Hibernian’s academy achievements over the past decade but the former Easter Road boss insists that mothballing the youth structure will only cause them greater problems further down the road.

With owner Ron Gordon issuing a statement, admitting that the consequences of the Covid-19 pandemic has placed “a substantial and unsustainable strain on the club’s finances”, the Leith club have entered into a period of consultation with staff and players, as they look to find ways to stop haemorrhaging cash during the ongoing shutdown. Redundancies are on the table, along with wage cuts.

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But, speaking on BBC Sportsound, Collins, inset, has hit out at proposed plans to offload academy coaches as the club pauses and scales back several initiatives to allow it to focus all efforts on supporting the first-team squad.

“My take on this is that the lifeblood of all clubs, like Hibs, Hearts, Aberdeen, is their academy. Sadly, Hibs’ academy in the past decade has not produced. [Paul] Hanlon and [Lewis] Stevenson came through 10-12 years ago and between then and now, [Ryan] Porteous is really the only who has come through and is regularly playing for Hibs.

“So, it has not worked. It needs to be fixed but it doesn’t need to be closed down. That’s the wrong thing. The mindset should be that they need to develop,” said the man who kicked off his own professional career at Hibs before going on to play for Celtic, Monaco, Everton and Fulham.

“Hibs will not be going out and buying players but they should be developing players. It is a big city club and they have Glasgow just along the road, so it is a big catchment area, and they should be finding talent and developing it.”

As Hibs manager, Collins had an enviable number of young stars to work with but believes that well has all-but run dry in recent years.

“They have not got it right in the last decade but to close it down? I would worry if I was a Hibs supporter or a young kid in the academy. I would be thinking ‘what?’ ‘A capital city club, closing or mothballing their academy?’

“That is not the right decision. I understand there is no money coming in but I think that is the wrong place to make cuts.”

The former Scotland midfielder, who was instrumental in planning the club’s East Mains training centre, although he resigned the day after it officially opened, is an advocate of shaking up the Scottish game and backs the idea of colt sides being allowed to join the senior set-up, insisting it would help challenge and develop young prospects and prepare them for the jump between reserve and first-team football.

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But he worries about the opportunities for the next generation of Scotland stars if clubs decide to strip their academies to save cash.

While Hibs are not the only club to look for savings in that area, with predictions that academy football will not be up and running again before the turn of the year, competitors such as Aberdeen have vowed to take a different approach.

Although they concede they are losing millions at the moment and have asked their highest earners to agree wage cuts of between 15 and 20 per cent on top of wages already deferred, they have vowed to protect their academy set-up and former Dons player and manager Willie Miller agrees with Collins, maintaining that the development of young talent should not be downscaled.

“I am really disappointed about the development programme at Hibs being decimated.

“You are talking about your core business and Ron Gordon is a respected businessman but surely you have got to make your development programme part of the core business. The first team, obviously, yes, but the development programme is so important as well and to see that decimated by clubs all over the country would be so depressing,” said Miller.

He appealed to clubs to find an alternative way of tightening belts, saying some things were about more than finance.

“I think clubs have other responsibilities [other than the first team] and with the greatest respect to Ron Gordon, that includes developing players. For programmes to be abandoned would be so sad. Ways should be found to at least keep part of that development programme operational for as long as possible.

“The costs are not anywhere near the cost of your first team and while I understand that you have got to focus on the first-team squad and make sure that you are in the top league if you are Hibs, you have also got to take on the responsibility of developing young players as well. I think that is a core part of any club.”

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