I must admit I’ve always liked Shaun Maloney. He was a cracking player and regularly had a positive impact on some big games – who after all can forget him picking the ball up from Petrov taking one touch inside and letting rip with a 25-yarder past Stefan Klos when Celtic defeated the now defunct club in a 2-0 2005 League Cup win at Celtic Park.
He had some rough times with injuries during two spells with Celtic but he was always a committed and intelligent player when he got out there. Yet had you asked me if is the quiet unassuming kid would go into management after he’d hung up his boots, I’m not sure I’d have even considered the possibility.
And he’s lucky it wasn’t over before it started, because after working as an assistant to Roberto Martinez with an array of Belgian superstars, Maloney wound up at the managerial graveyard of Hibs as his first solo gig. And in truth Hibs just weren’t ready for him.
Maloney is clearly a thinker when it comes to how football should be played and he arrived at Hibs with some steadfast principles he intended to follow. The players he inherited at Hibs were perhaps not entirely suitable to the style he wanted to play, but I admired the fact he stuck to those beliefs nonetheless.
Hibs however isn’t the sort of club where patience is afforded when the Leith natives are restless. And after just twenty games Maloney was for the tin-tack, as the Hibbees hierarchy, as they always do, pulled the trigger on the back of a guilty verdict from the court of public opinion.
That may have been enough to stop some managerial careers in their tracks, but not Maloney’s, and now the wee man is back in the game as head-coach of Wigan Athletic, trying to find a way to keep the Latics in England’s second tier. And it is the measure of the man that he has learned his lessons from a tough start in Edinburgh, as reported in the Daily Record, and isn’t wallowing in any kind of self-pity – something that is not always the case In the world on the punted football manager.
“There were lots of things I was ready for and there were other things I needed to experience. I guess that’s what that four months did. I loved the time with the team and my staff. Demanding fans, but I really enjoyed that, I’ve been at huge clubs where the demands are even more intense, so that never worried me. I enjoyed so much of those four months.
“There are always things, when you look back, that could have worked better. Tactically, we became a very good defensive team, we could have been more aggressive in terms of attacking numbers, but the profile had changed. We lost our No 9 (Kevin Nisbet) and our biggest attacking player (Martin Boyle). Maybe I had to get that advantage again by attacking with an extra player. Recruitment in that window was something I had to go really deep into and I think there are lots of things I have to learn from.
“There are some things I would have done differently from pretty much the first month onwards. I think that’s why I spent the next four or five months (after being sacked) taking stock of what had happened and being better equipped this time around. For myself, I wasn’t too worried about the pain of what happened. The biggest disappointment I had was for the staff I brought to Hibs and the impression I’d given them about what we were going to create.
“That was the biggest pain, the staff had left big clubs. They’d come because of the vision and the dream I had for Hibs and it didn’t happen for them.
“One of my favourite performances by the team was that gut-wrenching defeat in the semi-final. I knew where the team was going. I was clear on what we needed in terms of recruitment in the summer to give the team an opportunity to fight for the top six and close the gap on Hearts. In reality, our paths went in very different directions.”
The benefit of positive self-reflection is there to see in Shaun Maloney. No gripes, no groans, just an honest appraisal of his time as a manager first time out and how he hopes to learn from his experiences moving forward.
Maloney however has a tough gig once again on his hands at Wigan Athletic. Football in the Championship is predominately a twice weekly slug-fest of direct football and a battle for second balls, and that’s at the best of times.
🗣️ Shaun Maloney speaks to Latics TV following a hard-fought point away at Bristol City…#wafc ⚫️🟡 #BELIEVE pic.twitter.com/uKGWLTKjHZ
— Wigan Athletic (@LaticsOfficial) February 15, 2023
With Wigan lying 22nd of 24 teams and with just seven wins all season, the traditional approach would be for Maloney to take the aerial route to Championship survival, but you can bet he won’t. If he’s going to go down, he’ll want to do so trying to play football the right way, the Celtic way even. The way he played the game, and the way he learned how to coach it, first with Celtic and then under Martinez and the Belgian national team.
Yet, that will of course be a tough ask. However, there is no point in discarding your beliefs just because the going gets tough – and Shaun Maloney knows if you want to be the best you can be and you want your team to follow suit, then getting the ball down and playing your way out of trouble is the right way to do it.
You can but hope this time Maloney is afforded more patience than he received at Hibs. Yet when you are following another former Celt Kolo Toure into the Wigan Athletic hotseat, and you know the last guy lasted just two months in the job, that cannot be guaranteed.
One thing is certain however, Maloney won’t revert to punting the ball up the park, he’ll try and play his way out of trouble at Wigan, just as he did with Hibs. And if someone gives him the time to do it, they will get their rewards for their patience – something the Hibs hierarchy simply didn’t have.