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Wednesday, March 24, 2010
Hibs could be the best in the business

Andy Moir

Finance is almost more important than football for the majority of full-time teams north of the border. Results off the pitch and balancing the books can have almost as much of an influence on clubs as the results on the field. Even the big boys are not immune, with Rangers' recent fiscal plight constantly in the spotlight. Businessman Andrew Ellis has been lauded as the latest white knight prepared to answer all the problems at Ibrox. The Light Blues are far from alone as many teams continue to struggle, particularly in the wake of the Setanta collapse. But while many clubs are forced to cut their cloth accordingly, one team continues to prosper and is fast developing into one of the most admired operations in Britain. The Hibernian business model is certainly one to be marvelled at, with the club in a healthy financial position. It's not all been plain sailing, of course, and there's no doubt their fans will still be reeling following their shock Scottish Cup quarter-final exit to First Division Ross County. Their Highland fling may well have cost them a semi-final against Celtic and a trip to Hampden as their Scottish Cup jinx continues to haunt them - they last won the trophy back in 1902. More than anyone else, boss John Hughes will find it hard to accept the cup catastrophe, but he'll need to find his focus quickly with a trip to former club Falkirk on the fixture list this weekend. However, it's important to examine the bigger picture and what they have achieved in recent seasons. Hibs are debt-free, owning a prestigious youth academy as well as producing some of the brightest young talents in Scotland in recent years. It may provide scant consolation for the Easter Road support, but they should still be thankful for the position they are in. Their recent profitability owes much to the fact they've cashed in on those rising stars after nurturing them through their highly respected youth scheme. Scott Brown, Kevin Thomson and Steven Whittaker are now permanent fixtures for Celtic and Rangers, with their moves to Glasgow generating millions for the Hibees, and Brown's 4.4 million switch to Celtic in 2007 remaining the biggest transfer fee exchanged between two Scottish clubs. They were also able to sell Derek Riordan to Celtic for a little under 200,000 before luring him back along the M8 two years later for next to nothing. Scotland international strikers Steven Fletcher and Garry O'Connor are both now furthering their careers in the English Premier League having started out at Easter Road. Fletcher features regularly for Burnley following his 3 million move south and O'Connor is at Birmingham, having originally left Hibs for Lokomotiv Moscow just over four years ago in a deal worth 1.6 million. In fact, cashing in on their super six has generated more than 13 million for the club, and it has been carefully reinvested. It might not seem like it now, but there's a bright future ahead for Hibs. There's little doubt the transfer fees have boosted the coffers but the men in charge have spent the cash wisely. They've created an impressive youth academy and have recently started working rebuilding their famous old East Stand. But if you think the gravy train of top talent is about to dry up, you'd be wrong. There's another batch of hit kids rising through the Hibs ranks with David Wotherspoon, Paul Hanlon and Darren McCormack all stepping up to make their mark this season. The Hibs conveyor belt of talent just seems to continue to replenish the first team squad whenever it's plundered. Other clubs, not just in Scotland, have been quick to recognise what's been going on in Leith. Their system might not be able to guarantee silverware success, but it is certainly winning them more and more admirers. Even Gary Mackay, the record holder for appearances with Hearts, reckons his beloved Maroons should follow the lead of their Edinburgh rivals. The bottom line is the Leith side have been reaping the rewards for having the vision to invest in their youth system and their army of talent spotters deserve enormous credit for their fantastic work. Hibs have also been able to cash in on the likes of David Murphy, Rob Jones, Ivan Sproule and Dean Shiels after bringing them north before helping to develop them further. That's allowed manager John Hughes to attract high-profile players like Anthony Stokes and Liam Miller but, while Hughes has been handed a reasonable kitty with chief executive Scott Lindsay at the helm, there's no way he'll be given a blank cheque. Lindsay is keen to support his manager in his aim to try to split the Old Firm but that won't be done by taking big risks which would threaten long-term stability. A derby day defeat for Hibs against Hearts at Tynecastle and the Ross County result might have taken some of the shine off a season of real progress - but at least the Easter Road faithful can be safe in the knowledge that their side will be around for many years to come thanks to their sound financial management.

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