My surprising hand in signing Sauzee and why Hibs need Frenchman’s spirit against Hearts – Tam McManus

Now is the time for Hibs to summon up the spirit of Sauzee.

Honestly, if ever there was an omen ahead of two monumental Edinburgh derbies then it must surely have been the return of Le God to the capital this week.

What Shaun Maloney would give to have Franck in his squad at Tynecastle and Hampden in the coming fortnight.

To be frank, pardon the pun, the Frenchman was one of the best players to grace Scottish football in the last 25 years. Oh yeah… and he was never on the losing side against Hearts.

Eight times he led Hibs out in a derby and his record of four wins, including that 6-2 leathering in Leith, four draws and two goals passed the legend test.

I can only dream of being held in the same class as Franck but what I can say for sure is that I played a huge role in getting him a deal at Easter Road. Don’t joke.

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It was 1999 and I was still on the groundstaff cleaning the boots when I saw Franck walk by with the agent Willie McKay. I said to the boys ‘That was Franck Sauzee!’ They thought I was at it.

I couldn’t actually believe it as I’d grown up watching this guy playing for Marseille and France.

But we were having a trial match and it turned out Alex McLeish had worked wonders to get Franck in to play. And muggins was to be up against him.

Big Eck told me and Kenny Miller to keep running in behind. He wanted to see if Franck still had the legs because he was about 33.

Now, over 100 meters Kenny and I would have beaten him by 50! But around the 18-yard box? We never got a sniff.

Every time I went to spin and run in behind he was already there waiting for me!

That was the intelligence of the guy, it was like facing Franz Beckenbauer.

His legs weren’t so sharp but his head was, just like Der Kaiser towards the end of his career, and it was impossible for these two whippersnappers to get round him.

Big Eck had seen enough after half an hour. He shouted him off and signed him on the spot.

And there began a three-year love affair between Sauzee and the Hibs support.

So I had a big part to play in him joining. I probably played a part in him only lasting 12 games as a boss at the other end of his time in Leith as well because he handed me a five-year deal!

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In that short time I broke my leg against Dundee. I’d already agreed to the contract but hadn’t signed it.

So there was concern on my part that it could be taken away. There needn’t have been.

After going through my op I woke up to see Franck at the bottom of my bed and he assured me my contract was fine even though I’d be out for six months.

He was as good as his word. A top man as well as a top player.

Sauzee was in Edinburgh this week as part of ‘Le Retour’ – an event organized by the brilliant Hanlon-Stevenson Foundation. He’s an ambassador for the charity headed up by Paul Hanlon and Lewis Stevenson.

I was supposed to be on stage with him and other ex-team-mates like Ian Murray, Yogi Hughes, John O’Neil and Dirk Lehmann. But Covid wrecked that plan and I spent the weekend in my scratcher.

Back in Sauzee’s day Hibs were far better than Hearts and we gave them a couple of tankings.

Even as a manager Franck was unbeaten against them – drawing thanks to a late O’Neil equaliser.

Make no mistake about what lies in wait over the next fortnight, the whole season is on the line for Hibees.

Top six in the Prem and a Scottish Cup Final. Or bottom six and watching Hearts take your spot at Hampden.

It’s huge.

Managers live and die by results in these games. Robbie Neilson lost the Hearts support in his first spell as manager after they threw away a 2-0 lead in a Scottish Cup derby and had to watch Hibs come back and go on and lift the Cup.

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Hibs need to get ruthless to stand any chance. Again on Saturday in the 1-1 draw against Dundee United they should have been out of sight.

Elias Melkersen looked devastated after his late miss. He should have laced the ball rather than going with the side foot.

That was the big chance to win the match.

But strikers will miss opportunities. It’s the nature of the job.

He just needs to realize what this weekend and next offer. Bag a goal at Tynecastle and it’s back to being a hero.

Bag a winning goal in the Scottish Cup semi-final and he’s a legend.

If Hibs can sneak into the top six with a draw or a win this weekend then it sets them up perfectly for the Hampden clash.

Then it’s anyone’s game.

But first things first, this league match is every bit as vital. Avoiding the bottom six and giving themselves a foothold in the fight for fourth is imperative.

For Hearts the bigger game is the semi. For Hibs it might just be this week’s encounter.

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George Holan

George Holan is chief editor at Plainsmen Post and has articles published in many notable publications in the last decade.

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