Hibernians yesterday started their pre-season training but the first session was not conducted by their long-time coach Robert Gatt.

The former Malta U-21 mentor took charge of Hibs' Intertoto Cup matches against Slovenia's NK Gorica last month but the uncertainty over his position persisted amid speculation that the Paolites were seriously considering changing their head coach after the team endured a dismal 2007-08 season.

Gatt had a year left on his Hibs contract but talks between the two parties have led to a parting of ways.

Contacted by The Times yesterday evening, Gatt confirmed his departure from Hibs. Asked for his feelings after ending his nine-year association with the Paolites, Gatt said: "I don't like to look backwards, I prefer to look forward. I wish to have a break from football after nine years with Hibs. I have already received an approach from another club but I turned it down because I'm in no rush to return to coaching."

During his nine-year reign at Hibs, Gatt led the team to the Premier League title in 2001-2002 and back-to-back FA Trophy victories in 2005-06 and 2006-07.

Last season, Hibernians started the campaign full of promise as they lifted the Euro Challenge Cup and the Super Cup but their early form fizzled out during the league as the Paolites even missed out on a place in the Championship Pool.

Edmond Lufi, Gatt's assistant at Hibs last season, has been put in temporary charge of the team but English coach Mark Miller has already been lined up as the new coach.

Hibs have been reluctant to comment on reports linking them with an approach for Miller as the latter is still under contract with the Malta FA as coach of the national U-21 team.

However, sources have told The Times that Miller is all set for a second stint as Hibs coach after the Malta U-21s complete their UEFA Group 10 qualifiers with an away match against France on September 5.

Miller's contract with the MFA runs out at the end of November but it is likely that Hibs will seek to strike an agreement with the local governing body of football to release him straight after the Malta U-21 team's match against France.

Miller has been on the Malta FA coaching staff since 2000. He served as coach of the Malta U-17 and U-19 teams before succeeding Ray 'Żażu' Farrugia as U-21 mentor.

During his time with the U-21s, Miller has overseen the development of some of the country's most promising players who now form part of the senior national squad.

When Miller's two-and-a-half year spell as Hibs coach came to an end in 1999, the Premier League club had chosen Gatt as his replacement. This time round, it looks as though the roles are going to be reversed.

Hibs will also be looking to sign new foreign players this season.

Argentine midfielder Pablo Doffo was expected to report for the start of pre-season training yesterday but he has yet to be confirmed as one of Hibs' overseas players.

The Paolites are also expected to give trials to two young English forwards in the next few weeks.

Hibs have also expressed an interest in Valletta forward Dyson Falzon but they have not reached an accord with the Citizens for his transfer. Midfielder Edmond Agius is no longer on the Paolites' books after he opted to join Valletta.

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