Unfinished business: Taking a second bite of the Scottish cherry with Hibs

Season seven of The Football Manager Football Show concentrated on life in Scotland with Shane taking over Hearts late in season six before I joined him in Edinburgh as the Hibs manager.

You can read all about how the season played out here but in brief

  • Rangers finished with a treble-winning domestic season taking in the league, Scottish Cup and Premier Cup
  • We finished third overall, missing out on second place and Champions League qualifiers by a point to Hearts on the last day of the season
  • We gave Europe a good rattle, getting through the Europa Conference League qualifiers into the group stage proper, actually topping the group before exiting over two legs in the second knock-out round
  • The European trip meant generating over €8m in revenue through competition alone allowing a bit of breathing room in the transfer budget and an opportunity to expand the wage budget

So, when you start getting a decent run of results together, manage to finish above Celtic (albeit behind Hearts) and leave the club on a somewhat stable financial footing, you start wondering could you do one better?

Season 1

The end of the 2023/2024 season with Hibernian

Draws between the top five teams across the season seem fairly commonplace but when it came to defeats, Hearts were my bogey team. Three defeats and a draw against my Edinburgh rivals could have been the difference between a first and third-placed finish. We didn’t actually lose a league game until the end of 2023, shipping a 4-3 defeat to Hearts. Losses to Celtic, Rangers (twice), Aberdeen and Hearts again would prove costly, but on a whole, the campaign was very positive, leaving me thinking there’s still something that I can give to this team and that the players can produce over the 2024/25 campaign.

Reinforcements needed

In order to give this a proper crack, the squad needs strengthening. Dejan Stojanovic, my first-choice goalkeeper, played every single game bar one, is out the gap having signed a pre-contract agreement with LASK in January, much to my disappointment.

Thinking that this would be a one-and-done affair (which, technically it is for the sake of the podcast), I had made use of a number of loan signings across the season including Troy Parrott (Sheffield Utd), Kiernan Dewsbury-Hall (Leicester), Gavan Holohan (Boreham Wood), Teddy Jenks (Brighton) and Neco Williams (Liverpool).

While I had made sure to re-up Parrott for a second season regardless, taking up again with the team means seeing Holohan and Jenks depart while I couldn’t retain Dewsbury-Hall. He’s since returned to Leicester before moving on a permanent deal to Norwich (end of contract) where surely the allure of the Premier League is the only thing that will be of interest to him despite having played over 30 games for Hibernian this season, guaranteeing European football in the process.

I have managed to land Neco Williams, who had returned to Liverpool for about a week, for a second season so he’ll be a big help up and down the right flank.

Thanks to last season’s adventures in Europe, I’ve got around €5m in the transfer budget with an additional €30k breathing room in the wage budget to help pull in 1-2 names so it’s a new goalkeeper and a midfield general-type that I’m after during the summer window. Buy low, sell high.

Aims for the season

I need a second-place or higher finish for this season, at least to better the third-placed finish having missed out on second by a whisker. Making that hard is the desire to return to the ECL group stages, or better yet, get into the Europa League group stage proper and go from there but the target at board level is to reach the third qualifying round at a minimum.

We also need to qualify once more for the Europa Conference League which, if performances last year hold up well, should be straightforward enough.

We managed to break the Rangers-Celtic stranglehold by pushing Celtic to a fourth-placed finish last time out but Rangers cleaned up on the domestic front.

So, lets’ do a little rebuilding, aim for third or better and see if we can make the latter stages of Scottish cup competitions.

A European incentive?

Just as we head towards the start of the summer transfer window, there’s a little bit of good news for Scottish clubs – Scotland move up four places to eighth position in the European nation coefficients table, meaning the champions now go directly into the Champions League group stage for the 2025/26 season.

The runner-up, previously heading to the second qualifying round, now moves to the third/final qualifying round.

The original Hibernian journey

My original journey with Hibs has been summarised here and chronicled on The Football Manager Football Show from episodes 68 to 80.

This is the first part in a series of posts following my second season with Hibernian in Scotland as we work through 2024/25 in Football Manager 2022. Read the second part here.

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