He may not have always played and, when he did, he may not have always played well, but Dominique Malonga’s absence has left a void in the hearts of the Easter Road faithful, writes Craig Fowler
There’s been an outpouring of grief along the east of Edinburgh these past few days ever since it was announced that the most laid-back striker to grace Easter Road, potentially ever, had packed his bags, put on a dapper pair of shades (presumably) and said “au revoir”.
Scottish football is filled with mercurial talents. It’s the nature of the business. There are players in this world who are immensely talented and there are those who work their backsides off every match to make up for deficiencies in their game. Those who fall into both categories usually come with a price tag too rich for our clubs. What we’re left with is a fair share of guys who take inconsistency to maddening levels. However, even by our standards, Dominique Malonga was in a league all of his own.
It was just impossible to predict what kind of game he would have, though you could probably tell by his input in the opening ten minutes. Or, if you were paying close attention, by his body language in the opening five.
His goalscoring record against some of the smaller sides suggests he was a flat-track bully, but then he netted in hugely important games against Rangers, Hearts, Ross County and Aberdeen among others. At the same time he was prone to having a stinker against so-called lesser sides, home to Dumbarton last season and away to Livingston this term to name two such examples.
When he was on his game he played with such an effortless style. It was clear to see why fans regarded him as a figure who was undeniably cool. By the same token, when he suffered an off-day it was just as easy to see why opposing fans (and some Hibs ones) thought he was an absolute donkey.
For every moment of brilliance there was one of basic football dumbness, like the time he went through on goal against Hearts in the final Edinburgh derby of last season. Instead of electing to pass to a free team-mate who would surely have scored, he attempted a daisy cutter from distance that drifted well wide of goal. But then, on the whole, you couldn’t accuse him of lacking intelligence on the park. He had a knack of picking out little pockets of space and linking with team-mates to keep attacks flowing. When he was able to adapt his own pace to that of the game he was almost untouchable, a strength aided by a velvety smooth first touch. Then he’d go and miss from two yards.
The lasting emotion for Hibs fans will be one of affection, thanks, in large part to a few memorable goals. The most noteworthy being the terrific solo run that sealed Hibs’ league cup victory over Aberdeen earlier this season. He ended his time at the club with strike ratio close to a goal every second game.
This writer’s lasting impression of him regards his performance in the last New Year’s Derby. In spite of my maroon allegiances I couldn’t help but be in awe of how, with a game moving at 110mph, he was about to float around the attacking third into areas of time and space that only seemed to exist to him. At that particular period, opinion on Malonga was heavily divided. So, like with every misunderstood underdog in football, I made it my business to champion his exploits, even in conversation with Hibs fans, which was a bit of a alien experience, I must say.
I therefore found it heartening to read almost universally positive eulogies of his Easter Road career from Hibs fans, showing that he’d managed to win the majority of them over in the end. Even those that weren’t convince by his abilities had to admit his 18 months will live long in the memory.
So there’s nothing left to say other than au revoir Dominique Malonga, you were a true Scottish football cult hero.
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