It was only a matter of weeks into his tenure as Hibs boss that the Shaun Maloney sniff test started to stink.
Saturday night, a random text from one Premiership boss detailed his impression of that afternoon’s counterpart which didn’t make for comfortable reading.
To paraphrase, a certain deluded arrogance, detached and not offering the respectful air and grace a rival manager would expect.
This gaffer just wasn’t having him, his rant also included an out-of-his-depth reference and a something about having ideas above his station and appointing his own PA.
A surprising read in all honesty as Maloney has always appeared the mannerly type, extremely quiet and unassuming as a player and polite when accepting an invite to be interviewed as a coach.
Then a few rumors started to seep out from within the Easter Road inner sanctum. Off the record comments about players not buying into the methods of a regime which had replaced the universally popular Jack Ross.
Having a purist’s style of play is no crime but falling into the trap of trying to reinvent the wheel when organizing and getting a team to do the basics better was the priority at their time of need.
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A confidence shredding season needed a more direct instruction into a dressing room where things were coming apart at the seams.
Baffling tactical masterplans were now the talk of the steamie.
Call it a former player’s instinct but there’s also the Steve Kean factor which was also an issue of concern as it was thrown into the mix.
The former Blackburn Rovers boss had been brought in as academy director during predecessor Ross’ reign and it felt like a bizarre piece of recruitment. “A role which completes the structure of our football department,” said Hibs CEO Ben Kensell.
Kean’s ambition may well be to work with the youth side of the club, but he’s overqualified and a huge presence to say the least with an ear to the Easter Road hierarchy which could inflict a young manager more harm than good.
Ross was gone within weeks of Kean’s arrival and the highly thought of and much traveled Scot has been in attendance at recent games and could, perhaps, be the ready made man for the top job.
Looking over his shoulder is a natural reflex of every boss in football, this isn’t any accusation towards Kean, just a statement of fact and the natural course of common sense.
After all the trumpet playing and talk of the coup by Hibs of luring Maloney from the Belgium coaching staff, he’s a failed experiment with chairman Ron Gordon saying “ultimately, it didn’t work out”.
Another text arrived last weekend. Maloney was toast and an announcement was imminent with Scott Brown being extended an invite to come into the club for pre-season training in the summer, if not before. Word had it that the manager had been taken out of the equation by two directors from whom the offer was made.
Noses out of joint on a weekend where his club had been beaten by Hearts in the Scottish Cup semi-final and the die had been cast.
Whether Brown accepts this offer remains to be seen but his presence in the posh seats at recent games is the type of shadow cast on any under pressure boss which can trigger a restless boardroom to believe there’s a need to try to find a fourth manager in the space of three years. Again, this is only supposition in legal terms about the thinking behind what’s been transpiring in Leith.
Then there’s the hard facts. Maloney stood for 90 minutes with his arms folded as his side he meekly succumbed to Hearts a few weeks ago and consigned themselves to the bottom six. It wasn’t a good look, especially with his counterpart Robbie Neilson windmilling his side to be better, raw dugout encouragement for his team who displayed a greater desire and character throughout.
For a young manager who won just six of his 19 games, you’d expect a bit more animation rather than the body language of a man which suggested none of it was his fault.
Another elephant exists in the Easter Road boardroom which sanctioned the sale of top scorer Martin Boyle for £3million to Saudi Arabian club Al-Faisaly. The loss of their talisman for the same money which Hearts will bank after qualifying for the Europa League play-off round tells a story of differing ambitions and a tale of the season at both clubs.
A perfect storm for Maloney is his first managerial post as he bowed out with the irony of believing his side’s showing at Hampden was a sign of the future and better days ahead.
Sadly, the Ian Cathro of the day has discovered a brutal lesson about performance and results in football and it all being too little, too late.