DCSIMG

Where are they now: 14 ex-Hibs and Hearts players

Error-prone goalie Zibi Malkowski endured something of a turbulent time at Easter Road. Picture: PA

Error-prone goalie Zibi Malkowski endured something of a turbulent time at Easter Road. Picture: PA


  • by PATRICK McPARTLIN
 

WITH rumours linking ex-Hearts man Ruben Palazuelos with Yeovil, and Hibs defender Callum Booth helping to dump his parent club out of the Cup, we delved into the depths of world football to track down the whereabouts of 14 other former Hibs and Hearts players.

Some players, such as Steven Fletcher and Craig Gordon, rose to prominence with the Capital clubs, earning big money moves to the English Premier League, whilst others, such as Anthony Basso (last seen in the Swiss third tier) or Amadou Konte (most recently in Bulgaria and Indonesia) faded into relative obscurity.

Here are 14 players who once turned out in the green and white of Hibs, or the maroon of Hearts, and where they are now:

Zbigniew Małkowski (Hibs and Korona Kielce)

SIGNED from Feyenoord, Zbigniew ‘Zibi’ Malkowski had spent most of his time on loan at fellow Dutch side Excelsior, but impressed Tony Mowbray during the final two matches of Hibernian’s pre-season tour of Ireland before the 2005/06 season. The Polish stopper signed a two-year deal with Hibs and while he initially impressed, a string of iffy performances, including a number of high-profile blunders against rivals Hearts led to his departure from Easter Road in September 2008 following loan spells at Gretna and Inverness Caledonian Thistle.

Once memorably indulged buoyant Hearts fans at Tynecastle following chants of ‘Zibi, Zibi, give us a wave’ after an error during a derby match that led to a goal for the Jambos.

He currently plays for Polish Ekstraklasa side Korona Kielce.

Marius Činikas (Hearts and JK Sillamäe Kalev)

Cinikas made his one and only Hearts appearance in a tempestuous New Year derby in January 2010 that saw both sides finish with ten men, Darren McCormack and Ruben Palazuelos seeing red after an off-the-ball clash.

He was one of 14 Lithuanians who turned out for Hearts at one time or another between 2004 and 2012.

His route to Gorgie was complex and drawn out to say the least. A trial period in February 2009 failed to convince the Jambos to sign him, and while he joined them for their pre-season trip to Germany in the summer of that year, he returned to play for Kaunas in their Europa League qualifiers against FK Sevojno. He eventually joined up with Hearts at the end of August, playing once in the derby before returning to Kaunas in February 2010.

By April 2010 the right back was at FC Partizan Minsk in Belarus - also part of Vladimir Romanov’s football holding - but less than a year later, signed for Latvian outfit FK Liepajas Metalurgs.

He returned to Belarus to play for FC Minsk, and now plies his trade with Estonian top flight outfit Sillamae Kalev.

Thierry Gathuessi (Hibs and Arema Cronous)

NICKNAMED ‘Hong Kong Thierry’ (after the clumsy martial arts-loving cartoon character Hong Kong Phooey) as a result of his unorthodox and often boisterous style of play, the versatile defender was signed by John Collins in the summer of 2007, playing 25 games for the Easter Road side before being frozen out by Collins’ successor Mixu Paatelainen and ending up at Inverness Caledonian Thistle along with fellow outcast Filipe Morais.

His only goal came in a 3-2 home win over Celtic, but his tendency for errors - including giving away a penalty in a match away to Dundee United – combined with his somewhat aggressive playing style (he amassed eight yellow cards and two reds in less than a season) did him no favours, and he played his final game for Hibs in a 2-0 home defeat at the hands of Motherwell.

Following short spells with the Caley Jags and Raith Rovers, he ended up in Indonesia’s Super League, signing first for Sriwijaya before joining East Java side Arema Cronous.

Mirsad Bešlija (Hearts; retired January 2013)

THE Strange Case of Mirsad Beslija only lasted just over two-and-a-half years, but it felt like much longer. The Bosnian winger cost Hearts a reported £850,000 in January 2006, when he signed from Belgian side Racing Genk, becoming the Tynecastle club’s most expensive signing ever. Yet each of his seven first team appearances - thanks to a loss of form and a number of injury setbacks - effectively cost the club £122,000 with reports at the time suggesting he was on wages of around £9,000-a-week - making him one of the highest-paid players at the club.

Genk also threatened Hearts with legal action on two occasions, first when the deal appeared to have collapsed and again when claiming the Jambos had neglected to pay the full transfer fee for the player.

At the time, the Belgian side’s sporting director Willy Reynders said he was prepared to get Fifa involved if necessary, adding that Hearts had tried to send Beslija back to Belgium but the Jupiler Pro League outfit had already replaced him.

Genk later demanded that Hearts be banned from the transfer market for failing to pay the fee in full, with club director Erik Gerits claiming at the time that Hearts had told him ‘middlemen’ had completed the transfer without permission and they wanted to re-negotiate the deal.

A lack of form and a run of bad luck with injuries led to Beslija being sent on loan to Sint-Truiden in 2007, where he similarly failed to make an impact due to injury. Now 34, he last played for Bosnian outfit FK Zeljeznicar but appears to have retired around this time last year.

Thomas Sowunmi (Hibs and FC Ajka)

JOHN Collins signed the Hungarian striker on a short-term deal following an injury to first-choice striker Chris Killen, in a bid to bolster his attack and add some much-needed experience to his squad. He scored the winner in a 2-1 Scottish Cup victory over Queen of the South after coming on as a substitute, but played just five times for Hibs in the league, failing to find the net in any of those matches.

Sowunmi had faced Hearts at Murrayfield before signing for Hibs, as former club Ferencvaros beat the Jambos 1-0 in the UEFA Cup.

Famously kickstarted a much-lampooned post on Hibernian supporters forum Hibs.net that confused him with one-time Falkirk striker Enoch Showunmi.

The striker now plays his football in the Hungarian second-tier for FC Ajka.

Julien Brellier (Hearts and AC Seyssinet)

SOMETHING of a fans’ favourite during his time at Tynecastle, ‘Le Juge’ was held in high regard by the Hearts supporters following his signing in 2005, as his work in the midfield engine room gave Rudi Skacel and Paul Hartley the freedom to attack - indeed, they scored a combined total of 30 league goals that season.

According to various reports, owner Vladimir Romanov did not share the supporters’ love of the Frenchman, and the signing of Bruno Aguiar appeared to signal the end for Brellier in Gorgie. Reduced to mostly substitute appearances, the midfielder admitted in an interview in April 2006 that he was unsure if he had a future with the club, saying: “Every week there seems to be controversy at Hearts. I’m angry I haven’t played. I don’t know why I’m not playing.

“I know Vladimir [Romanov] said he felt I wasn’t one of the best players at Hearts. If he has a problem, he should speak to me about it.”

Despite this, Brellier signed a contact extension, and came on as a substitute as Hearts won the 2006 Scottish Cup. But the following season continued in a similar fashion, and he left the club in May of 2007 after rejecting a final contract offer.

Despite reports linking him with Rangers, Brellier joined Norwich on a two-year deal in July 2007, where he made 10 appearances before he fell out of favour and had his contract terminated. He spent a short period of time with Swiss outfit FC Sion, but left after 11 appearances.

He trained with French Ligue 1 side Grenoble to maintain his fitness but decided in October 2010 to retire from professional football.

He now plays for amateur side AC Seyssinet, who compete in the 7th tier of French football - not far from Brellier’s birthplace.

Oumar Kondé (Hibs and SC Binningen)

ANOTHER Mowbray signing, Swiss stopper Kondé arrived from Hansa Rostock in January 2006, following spells with fellow Bundesliga side SC Freiburg and before that, Blackburn Rovers, but had failed to make much of an impact in the British game. A former Swiss Under-21 international, he arrived at Easter Road with his ‘physical attributes’ highlighted as he promised to give his best in every match.

However, Kondé departed the club just a year after joining, with Mowbray’s successor John Collins deeming him surplus to requirements. Although he spent time on trial with Austrian side Sturm Graz, he opted to join Greek side Panionios where he spent six months before signing a three-year deal with FC Zurich. He joined Chinese side Chengdu Blades on loan in 2009, making 16 appearances before eventually leaving Zurich for Thai side TOT SC.

Now 34, Kondé turns out for SC Binningen in the 5th tier of Swiss football.

Ricardas Beniusis (Hearts and FK Kruoja)

ONE OF many Lithuanians to have turned out for Hearts, Ricardas Beniusis - or ‘Beni-useless’ as he was christened by some cruel fans - arrived at Tynecastle with an impressive scoring record, having netted 16 goals in 15 games in the Lithuanian A Lyga.

He made his debut in the white-hot atmosphere of an August derby at Tynecastle, where a 3rd minute goal from Hibernian midfielder Brian Kerr ended up being the winner. Replaced by Michal Pospisil after 70 minutes, Beniusis was jeered by Hearts fans and never really recovered from that particular baptism of fire. Seven months later he was dispatched back to Lithuania, having made just eight appearances, and later described his Scottish football debut as ‘maybe the worst moment of my career.’

Yet the striker continues to hit the back of the net - he scored 31 goals in 67 games for Lithuanian side FK Suduva over two terms, including 13 in 11 barely a year after leaving Tynecastle.

He now features regularly for FK Kruoja Pakruojis in the A Lyga - and insists he holds no regrets following his time at Hearts.

Chris Killen (Hibs and Chongqing FC)

NEW Zealand international striker Chris Killen penned an 18-month contract in January 2006, after leaving Oldham Athletic, where he had been top scorer in the 2004-05 season. Killen made an immediate impact in the green and white by scoring the third goal in a 3-0 cup win over Rangers at Ibrox. After Derek Riordan and Garry O’Connor left Hibs in the summer of 2006, Killen was looked upon as the club’s main striker but suffered an achilles tendon injury that kept him out for the rest of the season, and he rejected the offer of a one-year contract extension in the summer of 2007. His 16 goals in 25 appearances had interested the likes of Cardiff City, but the New Zealand striker opted to sign a three-year deal with Celtic, where he found first-team opportunities hard to come by thanks to the form of Jan Vennegoor of Hesselink, Georgios Samaras and Scott McDonald. Following a brief loan spell with Norwich, he left Celtic for Middlesbrough in 2010, having scored just two goals in 26 games.

Killen now plays his football in China, having first joined Shenzhen Ruby before transferring to China League One club Chongqing FC.

János Balogh (Hearts and Nyíregyháza Spartacus FC)

HUNGARIAN ‘keeper Balogh joined Hearts in 2008 from Debrecen, initially on a six-month loan deal, after eight successful years in his homeland. Balogh arrived in Edinburgh having won three Hungarian Cups, the Hungarian league, and the ‘Szuperkupa’ during spells with Debrecen, Sopron and Nyiregyhaza, and was expected to challenge Marian Kello and Jamie MacDonald between the sticks.

His debut came in October 2008, when he replaced the injured Kello at half-time in an Edinburgh derby at Easter Road that finished 1-1, with Balogh denying Derek Riordan a match-winning goal in stoppage time.

He signed a permanent deal in February the following year, with Debrecen letting Balogh join the Jambos for around £185,000. He struggled to hold down a regular starting berth, eventually losing out to Kello, and spent most of his time at Hearts on the bench, or out injured thanks to a broken wrist. He made just one solitary appearance in the 2011-12 season, having fallen down the pecking order with the emergence of MacDonald. He was expected to leave the club at the end of his contract in January 2012, but negotiated an early exit in December 2011 after making 41 appearances for Hearts.

He spoke fondly of his Edinburgh Derby appearances to the Hearts website prior to his departure, adding: “I remember making the save of my life against them at Tynecastle when I had to change direction to turn a deflected shot onto the post.”

He returned to his native Hungary, where he currently plays for former club Nyiregyhaza in the Nemzeti Bajnoksag II - the country’s second tier.

Matt Thornhill (Hibs and Buxton)

BROUGHT to Hibs in January 2011 by Colin Calderwood to supplement the midfield with a player who could get forward and score goals, Thornhill’s transfer to Easter Road was delayed as he recovered from an ankle injury. When he eventually signed, along with then-Celtic youngster Richie Towell, he was reunited with his former manager, Calderwood having handed the player his debut in 2007 at Nottingham Forest.

However, Thornhill struggled to meet expectations, and was largely anonymous as Hibs trundled towards the end of the 2010/11 season. He suffered an injury that kept him out until the summer, during which he scored twice in a 3-1 friendly win away to East Fife.

Unfortunately, he failed to replicate his pre-season form over the following league campaign, and was released in January 2012 during a mass exodus of Calderwood signings, departing Easter Road in the same 48-hour period that saw Icelandic midfielder Victor Palsson and striker Junior Agogo exit the club.

He now plays for Northern Premier League side Buxton.

Laryea Kingston (Hearts; currently unattached)

HAVING played for 12 clubs in 12 years, keeping track of Laryea ‘Larry’ Kingston’s career can be a bit bewildering.

After spells in Ghana, Libya, Israel and Russia, Kingston opted to join Hearts on a six-month loan deal in January 2007 from Chechen side Terek Grozny, with the Tynecastle club negotiating an option to sign him permanently at the end of the loan spell - which they exercised in June for a reported fee of around £500,000.

Kingston managed 61 appearances and eight goals in total, despite international commitments and injuries, as well as receiving a red card in his fourth league game for Hearts for a challenge that broke Barry Nicholson’s shoulder.

Perhaps the most bizarre incident of his time in the capital was his response to allegations from former Ghanaian FA chief Dr. Nyaho Tamakloe, who launched a scathing attack on then-Chelsea player Michael Essien, implying he was lying about his age, claiming that Kingston was amongst other Ghanaian internationals who were guilty of ‘age cheating’.

Kingston denied the allegations, telling BBC Scotland in an interview: “I am 29 and I am going to turn 30 in November.

“If [Tamakloe] thinks we are lying about our age, he should come out and show us proof that we are 42 or 62.”

Kingston, now 33, was released by Hearts in 2010, and joined Dutch cracks Vitesse Arnhem, who let him go after just six months. He eventually returned to Israel, penning a two-year deal with Hapoel Be’er Sheva in July 2011.

He left Israel to return to Ghana in January 2012 with Hearts of Oak, signing an 18-month contract. Again, though, Kingston left before the end of his contract, moving to the United States to play for third-tier outfit Phoenix.

He is currently without a club, but was last seen on trial at Singapore League outfit DPMM Brunei - currently managed by former Blackburn Rovers boss Steve Kean.

Alan O’Brien (Hibs and Hungerford Town)

SIGNED from Newcastle United by John Collins as a direct replacement for the departed Ivan Sproule, winger Alan O’Brien was described by the Hibs boss as ‘like Ivan Sproule on a motorbike’. He’d made five appearances for the Republic of Ireland, and had been wanted by Wolves and Norwich City a couple of years before coming north. He signed a three-year deal in June 2007, but found first-team chances hard to come by.

The winger turned down a loan move to Crewe Alexandra in January 2008, and featured more in the first-team in the following season. However, O’Brien - who broke his leg in 2004 in a training ground accident - suffered from injury and poor form and featured mostly from the bench.

His contract at Easter Road was cancelled in July 2009, and he signed for Swindon Town where again, he was dogged by injury and made most of his appearances as a sub.

Barely lasting two seasons at the County Ground, O’Brien joined Yeovil Town in August 2011 after his release from The Robins, but found himself without a club just five months later, as he and three others were let go by The Glovers.

He played out the rest of the season at Gateshead, but was again released in the summer of 2012.

Hungerford Town snapped him up shortly after, where he still plies his trade in the Southern Football League Premier Division.

Chris Hackett (Hearts and Northampton Town)

CHRIS Hackett was signed as a 23-year-old by Hearts, under the tenure of Graham Rix, with the Tynecastle club unveiling Hackett alongside Mirsad Beslija, Juho Makela, Bruno Aguiar and Jose Goncalves. The winger, who had been linked with a host of clubs including Marseille, Middlesbrough, Manchester United and Newcastle United during his six-year spell at Oxford United, had also been on Hibernian’s radar, but he chose to head to Gorgie rather than Leith, for around £20,000.

However, he barely featured during his stint in the SPL, making just one start and one substitute appearance for the Jambos - a fact not helped by Graham Rix being sacked less than two months after signing him.

In August 2006 Hackett joined Millwall, barely seven months after signing for Hearts. He was linked with a return to Scotland in 2012, with St Johnstone reportedly interested in bringing the winger north, but Hackett remained down south, ending his six-year stay at Millwall to sign for Northampton Town in 2012, where he now plays in the same team as former Hibs trio Matt Doumbe, Gary Deegan and Roy O’Donovan.

 

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