Hibernian transformed by gentle touch of the Mowbray revolution

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The Independent Online

Appearances can be deceptive. As a player, Tony Mowbray was the kind of granite-jawed centre-half you simply did not want to cross. Yet now he is in danger of getting managers a good name - by embracing the human touch.

Appearances can be deceptive. As a player, Tony Mowbray was the kind of granite-jawed centre-half you simply did not want to cross. Yet now he is in danger of getting managers a good name - by embracing the human touch.

Mowbray has been in charge of Hiber-nian for only six months, but already he is looked up to by a young side who have become the surprise success story of the Scottish Premier League this season. Fourth in the table and with Europe beckoning, the Edinburgh club are evidence that there is more to man-management than the hairdryer approach.

Indeed, the only hairdryer sound in the Hibernian dressing room these days is the overworked electrical appliance that helps keep the boy-band hairstyles of Mowbray's precocious squad in check.

Mowbray suffered more than a blast or two in his own playing days. In Bruce Rioch he had the archetypal sergeant-major as his manager at Middlesbrough, before moving to Celtic and then Ipswich Town. It was his reputation with young players as a coach at Portman Road that prompted Hibernian to take a gamble on him last summer to replace the Plymouth-bound Bobby Williamson.

Hibernian could move into third place if they win at Dundee United tomorrow. Europe is beckoning. A few weeks ago, Mowbray's side went to Parkhead and played Celtic off the pitch with a display of passing surpassed there only by Barce-lona. Four of the team were teenagers.

Already their top scorer, Derek Riordan, is coveted. Spurs and Portsmouth watched him last weekend. The Scotland Under-21 player is evidence of Mowbray's caring side - Riordan was arrested and charged a month ago after a night out, and while Mowbray left the striker in no doubt that discipline was not negotiable, coaxing is his preferred way. "Derek made a mistake," said Mowbray. "But which one of us did not at that age? He realises now what he could lose, in terms of his career."

Mowbray could cite the example of Grant Brebner to underline his philosophy. The midfielder was sold in August to Dundee United, to the astonishment of fans - however, the former Manchester United player's subsequent confession to gambling debts has cleared the mystery.

"In my first five years at Middlesbrough, I was slagged off in the streets by fans when things were not going well," recalls Mowbray. "Then we got a manager [Rioch] who knew what he was doing, and people were shaking my hand in the supermarket. It's up to the players. They can go out on a Saturday night after a good result and enjoy a good meal, or they can stay at home because they've been beaten 4-0. I am trying to build a team; the guys here should enjoy the camaraderie of coming through together. I tell them to forget about the money elsewhere. If they are good enough, that will come their way - don't chase it."

That ethos is especially understood by those whom Mowbray recruited from the fringes of bigger clubs. Dean Shiels is an energetic midfielder who, even at 19, knew time was against him at Arsenal. "I played in the reserves," said Shiels. "However, when players like Dennis Bergkamp or Kanu didn't get a first-team game, I'd be put down into the youths. There was not much to look forward to.

"When I came up to Edinburgh to look at the club, the manager told me about his plans and how I fitted in. I have not regretted it. I worked with good coaches at Arsenal, and Tony Mowbray is up there.

"He can lose his rag like the best of them, but he would much rather talk to his players than scream and shout, or kick things around the dressing room. He talks a lot every day about what we have to do, on and off the pitch. We have not set any targets, like Europe; we just keep pushing on."

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