Russell Latapy on Hibs' unsung heroes, the game that rivalled 6-2 and managing in Scotland

Russell Latapy provided Hibs fans with many special memories across his three seasons, 84 appearances and 22 goals for the club.

Russell Latapy in action for Hibs. Pic: SNS
Russell Latapy in action for Hibs. Pic: SNS

The midfield maverick was a key member of the Alex McLeish side that secured the First Division title in 1998/99 before taking the Premier League by storm and eventually earning a move to Rangers in 2001.

His stunning volley and overall performance in the 6-2 win over city rivals Hearts at Easter Road in October 2000 remains a stand-out memory from his time in Leith.

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However, when asked to recall his top moment in green and white, the Trinidad and Tobago legend pointed to another famous Edinburgh derby win.

Latapy celebrates Hibs promotion to the SPL as team mate Franck Sauzee looks on. Pic: SNS

"There are so many. I cannot choose a favourite," he told Hibs TV.

"I know a lot of fans look at the 6-2 game which was a fantastic game and a memory that will live with me for the rest of my life.

"But we had a game at Tynecastle we won 3-0 which I thought was such a great performance from the team in general. For me that would be one of the finer performances and games that I played in the colour of Hibs."

The match he refers to was the final derby of the last millennium, which took place on December 19, 1999 and featured goals from Dirk Lehmann, Franck Sauzee and Kenny Miller, as well as a dazzling display from the 'Little Magician'.

Latapy enjoyed success in the dug-out as assistant manager to John Hughes at Inverness CT. Pic: SNS

Sir Bobby Robson influence

Now 52 and living in Barbados, where he manages the national side, Latapy looks back on his time at Hibs fondly.

He recalled how a phone call to Sir Bobby Robson, his former manager at Porto, helped sway him on a move to Easter Road having been first enticed to Scotland by his fellow countryman, and another Easter Road favourite, Tony Rougier.

"I was in Portugal at the time and felt that at 29-years-old it was my last chance to move and try something different," he said.

"I mentioned to Sir Bobby Robson about joining Hibs at the time, but Tony Rougier also had a big influence on me joining the club.

"We were international team mates at the time and the amount of good things he would praise about Scotland and Hibs in particular I knew I wanted to be a part of it.

"Once I was invited up and I saw the size of the club and the fans, and the city itself, I knew I wanted to be part of it for as long as I could."

Unsung heroes and the ‘big scary guy’

While Latapy blessed the Hibs side with his skill and vision, he also recognises the role of his team mates in a successful period for the club.

"I was fortunate that I played in a team with a lot of good players," he recalled.

"The obvious name that comes to mind is Franck Sauzee – he was magnificent. His composure, his ability, his choice of passing.

"But there were other guys who we really needed their influence for us to perform the way we did. Big Mixu [Paatelainen] was one of those guys – you play anything into him and it would stick, and you could make runs off of him. It also gave our defenders a rest when we were under the cosh that you could just play it up there.

"There were a lot of unsung heroes at Hibs as well that I played with. Stuart Lovell was magnificent for the team in the way he went about doing his business in an unselfish way. Another guy, Pat McGinlay, Matthias Jack – too many players that I played with.

"Then there's Shaun Dennis – who was a big scary guy to play against, and to sit next to in the dressing room!

"I couldn't have done my job without these players. It's difficult to choose one but it was a great team effort that we had at that time."

Sacked but legacy intact

Latapy could have stayed at Hibs for many more years were it not for an ill-advised night out with fellow countryman and Manchester United player Dwight Yorke prior to a New Year derby against Hearts that culminated in his arrest for drink driving.

His punishment for breaching the club’s code of conduct, which forbid players from drinking 48 hours before a match, was to have his contract terminated.

It says a lot for how much Latapy contributed to the club on the park that his legacy remains untarnished.

After leaving Easter Road, he went on to lift a Scottish League Cup during two years with Rangers before spending a short spell at Dundee United.

He then made the move to Falkirk, signing for his former Hibs team mate John Hughes, where he spent seven years and won a First Division title as well as a Challenge Cup.

After hanging up his boots Latapy stepped into coaching, reuniting with Hughes again – "the big guy who I'm wishing all the luck in the Highlands at Ross County” – becoming his assistant manager at Inverness Caledonian Thistle, and helping the club win the Scottish Cup in 2015.

Return to Scotland?

He is enjoying his current role in charge of Barbados, who are currently ranked 162nd in the Fifa World Rankings, but admits that he could be tempted to swap the Carribbean sunshine for Scotland should the right opportunity arise.

“Yes, absolutely,” he responded to the possibility of accepting a management role in Scotland. “I'm into international management now. I have a lot of job satisfaction in making a difference in a lot of young men's lives and giving them an opportunity and passing on some of the knowledge I've acquired over the years. But if the right opportunity comes up I would definitely consider returning to club management.”

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