For once in his life Jason Cummings was lost for words. After meeting new manager Neil Lennon for the first time, the pair headed for a Paris bar where the Hibs striker was left rubbing his eyes in disbelief as he found himself in the company of some of football’s biggest names.
“I was like a little kid, star-struck,” he said as he recalled the pair joining England legends turned football pundits Alan Shearer and Rio Ferdinand at Euro 2016.
Having heard that Hibs’ top scorer of the two previous seasons was swithering over extending his career, Lennon had made persuading him to sign a new deal a priority – so much so that Cummings and his agent were invited to join the former Northern Ireland internationalist in France.
That move paid dividends, as the 21-year-old was convinced his future lay in Edinburgh and it was that rather than rubbing shoulders with Lennon’s fellow broadcasters which swayed Cummings’ mind.
As he picked up the Ladbrokes Championship player of the month award for August, Cummings revealed: “When I went over to France, if I’m being honest, there were pros and cons. I do love it here, so there was no reason to leave Hibs, there was nothing bad had happened or I wasn’t enjoying it.
“One of the reasons was to better my career, because there is going to be a stage where I want to take that step and try to play at a higher level. So, I was swaying a wee bit. But I’ve always talked about getting Hibs promoted as well, I did want to stay and do that. The boys here are brilliant and, with the gaffer, it was just the final thing that swayed me to stay.
“He spoke to me one-on-one and that sealed the deal for me. I took to him straight away, the way he was planning to go this season, to win the league, all his ambitions – I bought into them.”
Already persuaded to put his name to a four-year contract, Cummings and Lennon headed for a night out amid the bright lights of the French capital but it wasn’t attractions such as the Eiffel Tower nor L’Arc De Triomphe which caught his eye but those already sitting inside the establishment they’d entered.
Cummings recalled: “I looked over and said ‘I know his face’. It was one of the guys from the BBC, the guy on Football Focus [Dan Walker]. Then sitting next to him were Ferdinand and Shearer and I was asking ‘what am I doing here’. It was good. I can’t remember what they were saying, they were talking about football, the Euros.
“They were doing the talking, I was sitting there like a wee boy, a kid, looking at them. It was probably the quietest I have ever been, it was some experience. A couple of them were saying he was a good gaffer, but to be fair, it was a bit of banter. They are top players but, at the end of the day just normal geezers having a laugh. Like normal guys having a drink in a bar.”
Lennon’s powers of persuasion have already paid dividends with Cummings having scored seven goals in five Championship matches to take promotion favourites Hibs to the top of the table, not that the striker has been spared by his manager who didn’t shrink from criticising his “sloppiness” against Dumbarton, even although he had netted the game-winning penalty.
Cummings, though, insists the stick he takes from his manager keeps him focused. He said: “It’s been the best start I’ve had to a season and it’s a credit to the boys. I’ve got the easy bit scoring the goals, getting the awards and the headlines.
“The manager is keeping on my back to keep me on my toes. He just wants to get the best out of me. If there is nobody shouting at me I would muck about and do my own thing. I try and listen to him during games but if I miss a big chance I try and stay away from the touchline he’s standing on.
“Seriously, I listen to him a lot and he gives a lot of good advice. He’s played at the highest level so he knows what it takes. He’s probably seen that I can drift in and out of games and I play better when he’s on at me.”
If some may find it strange that Lennon – who has been named Championship manager of the month for August – hardly a prolific scorer in his own playing days, is so harsh on Cummings, the player himself has no complaints. He said: “The gaffer told me he just wants the best for me. You’ve got to look at the fact he has played with one of the greatest players of all time in Henrik Larsson.
“He knows what he did in training, what he was capable of and he’s probably trying to get that into me a wee bit. I’m trying to take in as much as I can and learn from him. Alan Stubbs and Neil Lennon are different characters. Stubbsy was a bit more relaxed and if you had a bad game he was more chilled. The current gaffer knows what we can do and if I have a couple of bad games then he needs to get on to me. It helps me when someone is on my back because it brings out the best in me.”
While he’s only beginning to carve a name for himself, Cummings revealed that as a youngster he was once nicknamed “Ruud van Cummings” given his liking for Manchester United’s Dutch striker Nistelrooy.
Asked who was his hero as a boy, he said: “I don’t know, if I’m honest. But I like Man U, I liked [David] Beckham and Nistelrooy. I used to get called Ruud van Cummings back in the day. That’s what my old coach at Hearts, Scott Bonar, called me. I liked Van Nistelrooy, I think I just liked the name.
“Ruud van Cummings might stick, eh? Hopefully it does, I like that.”