DOMINIQUE Malonga’s call-up for international duty will be a loss to Hibernian but also a “wonderful” honour, according to manager Alan Stubbs. The French-born striker has been named in the Congo squad to play Nigeria a week on Saturday, then Sudan four days later, meaning he will miss his club’s game against Queen of the South and could be too fatigued to play in the game a week later against Dumbarton.
If he acquits himself well in those games, Malonga, whose parents are Congolese, could also be involved in the Africa Cup of Nations from 17 January to 8 February. That loss would be offset by the opening of the transfer window and the possible return to action of injured striker Farid El Alagui, but in any case Stubbs believes the loss of Malonga is a blow which Hibs should interpret as a sign that they are doing some things right.
“You can look it at it two ways,” Stubbs said yesterday. “Yes, it would be a loss. However, it’s wonderful for this club if we have an international player who’s representing his country after just a few weeks at this club.
“If he has been called up, then there’s no reason he shouldn’t, unless he says he doesn’t want to represent his country. He hasn’t indicated that to me, so if he goes, he goes with our best wishes. At this moment, if Dominique goes with Congo then so be it. There’s nothing we can do about it – it’s an official Fifa date. We’re led to believe he’ll miss the Queen of the South game. If they were to qualify for the African Cup of Nations, then he would miss a chunk of January.
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“It would be fantastic for one of our players to play in a tournament like the African Cup of Nations. We are hoping that he goes and does really well and this is a regular thing for him. Hopefully it means we’ve got one of our signings right.
“I’d like more of our players to represent their country. That tells you that we’re doing the right things – they wouldn’t get recognition if they were not playing well. I would never consider standing in any player’s way. It’s a proud moment for him and his family, and we would never deprive anyone of taking up that challenge. Far from it.
“The transfer window also opens in January. If Dominique is called up then we could lose him for several weeks. If that’s the case then we’re hoping that Farid – if he continues to do really well – will not be a million miles away. We’ll cross that bridge when we come to it.
“If Dominique goes, then we have other players who could step up. Football works in mysterious ways – as one door closes another one will open for other players.”
It was the injury to El Alagui after an impressive start to his Hibs career that opened the door at Easter Road for Malonga, who joined in September on a two-year contract after being released by Cesena. The 25-year-old has also made a quick impact, but Stubbs believes Hibs fans have not seen the best of him just yet.
“I’ve been really happy with him. He has a different style to what we’re used to as a striker. He does things at his own pace – which is not quick – off the pitch, but he has settled in really well.
“He’s enjoying Edinburgh, loves it as a city with his family, and that shows on the pitch. He’s getting fitter all the time. I still don’t think he is 100 per cent and hopefully the best is yet to come.”
Malonga will be available tomorrow, when Hibs travel to Cowdenbeath in search of a result that would consolidate their place in the Championship’s play-off positions. Hibs won at Central Park in the Scottish Cup at the start of 2012, but have not played there in the league since season 1970-71, when they and Cowdenbeath were both in the 18-team top flight.
Stubbs’ team’s their unbeaten run came to an end in their last game, when Dundee United knocked them out of the League Cup on penalties, but he is confident they are finding their stride after a shaky start. “From day one of working with the players, I knew there was ability there,” added Stubbs.
“But what they’ve been through has knocked their confidence. Now you’re seeing a team that is playing with a lot more confidence.
“I still think we can get better. I honestly believe that we’re definitely going in the right direction. I feel that over the last six weeks we’ve kicked on and come on to our game.
“We’ve given some good performances but not necessarily got what we feel we deserved out of the game. Now we need to do both – keep performing, but get maximum points out of games. You can’t keep performing like that and not get results.”
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