Data compiled by the Football Observatory, a research group within the Swiss International Center for Sports Studies, showed that more than 30% of the minutes played by Hibs players were completed by those trained by the club during at least three seasons between the ages. from 15 and 21 in the 31 best European leagues.
The fact that Lewis Stevenson, Paul Hanlon, and Steven Whittaker – who all went through the young Hibs system several years ago – have all been regulars on Neil Lennon’s side obviously bolstered this impressive number.
However, today’s youngsters also contribute at the first team level. Current Scotland Under-21 internationals Ryan Porteous and Oli Shaw are playing an increasingly important role, while Fraser Murray, Jamie Gullan, Lewis Allan and Sean Mackie have caught Lennon’s attention.
There is no doubt that May, who has risen through the ranks himself alongside John Collins, Mickey Weir, Paul Kane, Gordon Hunter, Callum Milne and Kevin McKee, would like to see that ratio increase yet again, but not at the expense. of the first – the success of the team.
“I would like it to increase,” May admitted, “but only if we win in the first team. I wouldn’t want to see that number higher if the first team doesn’t win. This is the biggest selling point of this club and it shows by the crowd they receive and the way they play is entertaining.
“If we get to 50%, but we’re way below the league we were in last year… no, that can’t happen.”
While the first team is undoubtedly Lennon’s domain, the head coach has a keen interest not only in the Hibs development team, but also those at all levels, so often among those on the key when young people play. His presence is further proof that all children at the club must aspire to his high standards.
May, who sits on the first-team bench on match days, explained: “The manager is ready to give them the opportunity which is a big, big thing rather than just demanding that he appeal. to experienced players.
“He wants the kids to come in, develop in the academy and then have the opportunity to play in the first team. He’s well aware of what’s going on, he knows kids by name and really cares about any soccer game and any kid representing Hibernian Football Club at any level.
“He’s the best manager I’ve ever worked with. His knowledge, but also his standards and requirements, are at a very high level and he asks that his staff and his players be at this level. This is what we are trying to do.
Life as a professional football player can be tough, which May and her team make clear to the young people in their care, not only urging them to give their best, but also to prepare for hard knocks. that will invariably happen to them. .
He said, “There must be standards. Football does not last 90 minutes. Standards evolve into training, the way you behave in training, and then when you leave the football field you still represent the club.
“We try to make them the best of themselves, to be good people, to understand the pitfalls of being a professional football player. It’s hard. Professional sport is very difficult, but there are a lot of people behind the scenes who are going to help them.
“We think they will have setbacks. How they treat them is really important. It’s not a disaster, but you have to be brave and good enough to accept it and move on, accept criticism but also expect criticism. Even if you have done well, there is always someone who will be negative.
“You have to have this belief in your abilities and we are working on it and trying to maximize what we have. “
May understands the impatience of young people and their desire to be part of the first team at breakneck speed, but also the need to make them understand that they have to be ready when this opening presents itself.
“There will be opportunities,” he said, “but it’s what you do with them when they arise that is really important. I remember when I made my debut against Dundee and then I never got close for six months.
“Then I got another chance and played a lot more, I ended up playing 120 odd games for Hibs over three and a half years. What we need to do is make these boys really believe in their abilities, but also in the work ethic of the team and the club from the first team, that it means something to them, this fantastic club and there is a pride and a standard in all the times we have to meet each other, be it in reserve or in the first team.
May has overseen a complete overhaul of Hibs academy and he firmly believes that those who are starting to make a good impression are just the start of what’s to come.
He said: “There has been a change of direction. What I did was change the coaches. The people who were here did a great job but in the end I wanted to improve the place and believe I did. The level is better than before.
“There are a lot of former players. I am delighted that Gordon Rae – who was the club captain when I arrived – is back. What we have are people with very good knowledge, but also very good knowledge. work ethic, which means improving people and understanding the standards to be a top player in Scotland.
“It’s a major difference for us. It took a few years.
May also believes that Lennon’s improvement from the first team also leads to an increase in standards within the academy.
“The first team to go forward is the most important thing,” added May. “If we bring in better players, our best academy players will learn from them, so it’s a win-win situation.
“I see a difference when they train every day and suddenly train with the first team. That’s when you really excel as a youngster, with better players, higher demands. Can you take care of it? Are you afraid of making a mistake? Or do you just play like you’re playing with your development teammates?
“A few of them have made that adjustment and if they’re good enough, they have this opportunity.”