Comment: Hibs fans hope Grant Holt isn't another Shefki Kuqi
When Hibs confirmed the signing of veteran striker Grant Holt there was one clear, very uncomfortable comparison for fans to make.
Shefki Kuqi arrived at Easter Road in August of 2012 as a free agent recruited by Pat Fenlon. It’s safe to say the Finnish striker did not enjoy a productive period in Edinburgh. He failed to score in 13 games and, even worse, looked more a shambling corpse than a professional footballer.
Here was a player who’d played with distinction for Ipswich, Blackburn and Crystal Palace, and yet he was struggling to make any sort of positive impact alongside Leigh Griffiths in Scotland’s top flight. And yet, it was easy to forgive and certainly easy to understand why. Kuqi’s best days were behind him. His career was coming to an end. He was 35 years old. The same age Grant Holt is now.
The comparisons don’t stop there. Both arrived at Easter Road via the same tier of English football. Holt spent time between Champions Wigan and mid-table Rochdale in League One last season (along with a short four-game stint at Wolves in the Championship). Kuqi’s last club prior to joining was Oldham, also in League One. Worryingly, Kuqi outperformed Holt if you’re comparing both campaigns in a vacuum. The Finn was the top goalscorer for Oldham with 11 goals in 2011-12, while Holt managed just two last term.
When signing Kuqi, his manager said: “He is an old fashioned target man who can hold the ball up and get his head on the end of corners. He is a strong-minded player.” Neil Lennon has yet to comment on the playing style of his first recruit, but we’ve all seen Holt play in England and you just know it’ll be along similar lines.
Thankfully for Hibs, football is never that simple. When one player makes a move to another club it’s never guaranteed to be a success and it’s never guaranteed to fail.
Holt is coming into a better situation for the individual player than Kuqi was four years ago. An ageing English League One rotation player signing to the Scottish top flight, in all likelihood, wouldn’t have much success. But Holt isn’t going to the Premiership. He’ll get an opportunity to succeed at a lower level. There’s debate around the overall quality in our top division with comparison to those in England. Many, including this writer, insist it’s a higher standard than League One, but there can be no doubt the English third tier is stronger than the Scottish Championship as a whole.
A more favourable comparison which should act as a comfort to Hibs fans is Lee Miller at Falkirk. Though three years younger than Holt, he arrived at the beginning of last season having suffered through a very disappointing campaign with Kilmarnock in the top flight where his best days looked long gone. Falkirk fans were understandably anxious. Instead, he became a key member in the Bairns squad that battled for promotion, acting as a necessary target man alongside John Baird, a role Holt will be expected to perform alongside Jason Cummings.
If Holt can prove himself sharp enough to perform at the Championship level then his signing makes relative sense. He gives the team a different option in attack; a forward capable of mixing it up physically in the opposing penalty area. It’s an option the club had only in theory the last two years with Farid El Alagui rarely fit enough to play. They still lack a forward capable of dropping deep and linking effectively with midfield, Dominique Malonga-style, but this is only the start of Lennon’s summer recruitment, not the end.
Furthermore, it’s a one-year deal. Because he’s a recognised name, detractors have speculated that he’ll be on a tidy wage packet. Those assumptions are likely to be wide of the mark. He wasn’t on loan at Rochdale last year, he was signed permanently from Wigan. With an average attendance of 3,000 it’s difficult to imagine the Greater Manchester club were breaking the bank to bring their former hero home. If he’s no good at Hibs, it won’t take much to cut their ties and try again with another striker.