NEW Hibernian striker Rowan Vine claims he was shabbily treated by St Johnstone in the summer but believes their decision not to offer him a new contract has worked in his favour.
Vine has signed a one-year contract at Easter Road and says he has moved to a “bigger and better” club than Saints, whom he helped to a third-place SPL finish last season.
The 30-year-old is still smarting at the manner of his departure from McDiarmid Park and the way his part in it was portrayed by new Saints manager, Tommy Wright.
“I thought they handled it quite poorly,” said Vine. “I felt disappointed at the way they went about it. Maybe it would have been different if Steve Lomas had still been there as manager.
“I signed for them last year with the intention of playing as many games as I could and then seeing what happened at the end of the season. They put an option in the contract where they could offer me another deal, but they had to offer me it before the January transfer window.
“When they didn’t, I literally didn’t have any conversation with them for the whole season. Not one person from the club spoke to me. Then, three days before the last game of the season, Steve Lomas told me the club were cutting the budget and they weren’t going to be able to offer me anything. They weren’t going to offer me the terms I was already on.
“I knew Murray Davidson had been offered a deal and rejected it, I knew Liam Craig had turned them down to sign for Hibs. I just thought that after playing in every minute of every game I was available and doing well, they just might offer me the chance to consider an offer.
“But what they did in the end, in early June, was Tommy Wright coming out and saying I’d left the club and wasn’t coming back. It made it look heavily as if it had come from my side. I’m at the stage of my career where I need to play games. It just looked as if they didn’t want me anymore. I want to progress and, no disrespect to St Johnstone, they are a smaller club in the SPL. They have over-achieved in the last few seasons. Hibs set their standards a lot higher and expect to be finishing a lot higher up the league. Hibs are a much bigger and better club than St Johnstone in my eyes.”
Vine, who commanded more than £4 million in transfer fees during a career in England which included spells with Portsmouth, Luton Town, Birmingham City and QPR, is in line to make his debut for Hibs on Thursday night when they face Malmo in Sweden in the first leg of their Europa League second qualifying round tie.
St Johnstone will also be in Scandinavia that night, facing Rosenborg in the same tournament, and Vine is delighted to be making his European debut after fearing his efforts in helping the Perth men qualify would go unrewarded.
“It was bitter-sweet for me when we beat Motherwell in the last game of last season at McDiarmid,” said Vine. “I played 37 times for Saints but going into that game, I pretty much knew that whatever happened, I wasn’t going to be at the club for the European games. So when we won the game, I went away feeling I had achieved something that I wouldn’t experience the benefit of. I didn’t sign for Saints in time to play against Eskisehirspor in the Europa League last season, so Europe was one of the attractions in joining Hibs.
“I went back down the road for a break during the summer but I spoke to a couple of people who look after me up here. They asked me what I thought of the league here. I told them I enjoyed myself, the standard is fine and it would be one of my preferred destinations if the chance came to come back up. Hibs were top of the list for me.”
Vine already has a firm and long-time admirer in the shape of Hibs assistant manager Jimmy Nicholl. He hopes that, through Nicholl’s knowledge of his strengths and weaknesses, he will be used as a central striker in a season when Hibs must try to compensate for the loss of the prolific Leigh Griffiths.
“Jimmy tells me he saw me play in a reserve game for Portsmouth when I was just 17,” revealed Vine. “He puts a star against the name of any player who catches his attention and follows their progress. He says he was always interested in working with me if the chance came up.
“I haven’t spoken in depth with the manager on where he intends to play me. I’m a centre forward, but I’ve been played out wide a lot. I’m an attacker and all I want to do is attack. My preferred position is up front.
“It wasn’t a bone of contention for me at Saints, because I hadn’t played much for the previous three years due to injuries. So I was just desperate to play. I was playing up front during an early spell of the season when we won a few games on the bounce and I enjoyed it. But then someone got injured and it was reshuffled. I got moved wide.
“We were not the most attack-minded team at Saints, so if we scored a goal, we tended to go to a 4-5-1. There were a lot of defensive duties, and sometimes I didn’t enjoy it. I did think it was taking a little bit away from what I can bring to the table.
“Jimmy has seen me play up front, or just off the front man. So hopefully I get the chance to play there.
“At every club, there should be pressure on the attacking players to score. Last season, for Leigh Griffiths to get 28 goals was unbelievable. To have done it for a team which finished outside the top six, you can look at it different ways.
“Because at St Johnstone, we finished third with no player in the team scoring more than ten goals. A lot of our goals came from midfield. But I think the whole club here at Hibs knows those goals Leigh scored will be missing so everyone has to try that little bit harder to contribute.
“It would be a bit of a disservice to the boys here to say they were too reliant on Leigh last season. If you look at his return, it looks like no-one else was scoring. Whenever we played Hibs, a lot of the pre-match instruction focused on him, telling us not to let him turn or whatever. He was so dangerous, you wanted to frustrate him and try to keep him out of the game.”