Benjelloun on verge of Hibs exit as Al-Ahly claim three-year deal

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AWOL striker Abdessalam Benjelloun last night looked to have finally cut his ties with Hibs after African giants Al-Ahly claimed to have signed the Moroccan on a three-year deal.

The 24-year-old failed to return to the capital as instructed earlier this month following an extended break due to his involvement with the Moroccan national side and manager John Hughes admitted yesterday his patience was wearing thin with the player.

Passport and visa problems have been cited as the reason behind the wayward marksman's no-show following a season away from the club on loan to Belgian sides Charleroi and Roeselare. It is understood, however, that Hibs had also told the player, who has struggled with form, injury and personal problems in recent times, that he could find himself a new club if the move suited all parties.

Doubts over the north African's commitment to the club, raised following his failure to reappear, looked to be proved correct yesterday when his picture appeared on the official Al-Ahly website along with a statement announcing his agreement of a three-year contract.

The reigning Egyptian champions are reported to be paying up to 500,000 (432,000) for the services of a player who has a year left on his contract at Hibs, but the Easter Road club last night insisted the player remained on their books pending further talks with Al Ahly.

A disagreement with previous manager Mixu Paatelainen – whose tactics he described as being stuck in the 1960s – led to the departure of 'Benji' on loan last season. But his successor John Hughes had publicly stated his hope the youngster would return to the club with a fresh determination to succeed in a Hibs jersey.

Instead, however, Benjelloun, who netted a double in Hibs' CIS Insurance Cup triumph of 2007, is set to join fellow striker Steven Fletcher and captain Rob Jones in leaving Easter Road ahead of the new season.

Although initially keen to try and help return Benjelloun to the form which saw him score 16 times in 33 starts for Hibs, Hughes will be hopeful of being able to use some of the income from his apparently imminent departure to strengthen his squad.

He said: "Eventually you have to say enough is enough and move on. No-one is bigger than the club, the club comes first and if it is not Benji it will be someone else. There will be a lot of comings and goings between now and the start of the season and over the next year until I have my stamp on things.

"I want to bring in players, good professionals who are hungry and have the desire to succeed."

If his move is formalised in time, Benji could this week find himself up against Tony Mowbray, the manager who brought him to Edinburgh from Moroccan side Maghreb Bez in 2006, when Al-Ahly take on Celtic in the Wembley Cup on Friday.

Benjelloun has claimed he was also wanted by German Bundesliga side VfL Bochum and Austrian Bundesliga outfit Red Bull Salzburg, as well as a host of Gulf and Middle Eastern clubs.

Speaking on a Moroccan football website he suggested Hibs had been keen to cash in on him before the expiry of his current deal next summer.

He said: "I wanted to be of service to the club which welcomed me and opened my doors of professionalism, especially as my contract with Hibs expires next year. Al-Ahly is a great club with international players and plays a leading role in African competitions. This will allow me to better myself and to experience new sensations."

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