Hibs reject Westerlo bid for Benjelloun

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HIBS have turned down an offer from Belgian outfit Westerlo for Moroccan striker Abdessalam Benjelloun, it was revealed today.

After scoring 14 goals, including a glory double in the CIS Insurance Cup triumph 16 months ago, Benji endured a miserable season last term, plagued by injury and netting just once as he featured in just 18 of Hibs' 43 games.

Even so, the 22-year-old striker broke into Morocco's international squad and found the net regularly in their opening World Cup qualifying matches.

As a result a clutch of Belgian sides were said to be interested with Anderlecht, Westerlo and, only this week, Charleroi linked to his name even although he still has two years of his contract to run at Easter Road.

Although Benji has started just five times since Mixu Paatelainen succeeded John Collins as Hibs manager, the big Finn today insisted he still valued the striker.

Today Paatelainen disclosed there had been an offer for Benji but refused to discuss details although the player's agent Clive Hart claimed it had been made by Westerlo and was rejected.

Paatelainen has made no secret of the fact he's keen to slim down what he sees as an over-sized squad although he is actively seeking fresh talent.

But he added: "Benji is a quality striker, no doubt about that, and I value him. He's a fantastic player, a goal-scorer, very skilful and we all know what he is capable of doing. He's had a frustrating season but every player goes through that at some stage in their career."

Scotland striker Steven Fletcher and January signing Colin Nish established themselves as Paatelainen's preferred strikeforce in the closing months of last season, leading Benji to claim he felt he needed to move to preserve his international career.

But Paatelainen declined to discuss whether the former Moghreb Fes player was one he'd be prepared to let go if the price was right. He said: "A lot depends on circumstances.

"I do not want to go into a list of players who may be going or possibly going."