Hibernian boss Pat Fenlon has backed playmaker Abdellah Zoubir to become a star in the Scottish Premiership - once he overcomes the language barrier.
The French winger has signed on with the Easter Road side on loan from French second division side FC Istres until the end of the season and Fenlon claims his grasp of English is all that is holding him back.
The 21-year-old’s only start since his transfer-window switch was against Stranraer in the League Cup, where he put on a dazzling display in a 5-3 win.
Zoubir has been attending weekly English lessons but with Celtic visiting Leith on Saturday, Fenlon is now considering letting his talented wide man do his talking on the pitch.
The Hibs boss said: “Zoubi is learning and getting to know the group. He’s not too far away from getting a first start in the league.
“He started against Stranraer and enjoyed that, while he has had a little taste against some SPL sides. But the key with the foreign players is getting them to know their team-mates and how we want to play. Improving his English is also a massive help.
“He has improved on all of those aspects and we have managed to get him some game time too in which people have seen there is a real talent there. We want to push him and get him into the team as soon as possible but it has to be right for the team too.
“We had a similar situation last year with Jorge Claros. When he got his family over here, the improvement in his game was massive. But it was also a combination of learning the language and getting to know his team-mates better, the staff too and how we wanted to play.
“It’s the same with Zoubi. He’s not married and doesn’t have kids but he needs to know his team-mates and how we want to play. It’s important for him to build up relationships both on and off the pitch and the best place for him to improve his English is in the dressing room. We can get him lessons but football language can be different and that is the best place to learn.”
Celtic face Ajax on Tuesday as they continue their Champions League adventure but Fenlon does not expect Hoops boss Neil Lennon to throw him any favours by resting his top players.
Competing on two fronts last year proved to be a tricky combination as the Scottish champions reached the last 16, only to drop 15 points in the league games which followed their 12 European fixtures.
But Fenlon said: “Lenny has addressed that this season and their results after the European games have been very, very good. It is very demanding playing against the likes of Ajax, Barcelona and Milan. The concentration and work rate you have to put in are energy-sapping.
“We know what to expect and I don’t think they will change things too much. They have dealt with the aftermath of these big games better this year and that is a learning curve. Lenny has learned from last year and it is paying off.
“But we gave them a game here last year and we just need to make sure we match the tempo we did that day.”