TONY Mowbray, the Hibernian manager, last night celebrated the capture of highly-rated Moroccan Merouane Zemmama on a five-year deal - after being told by countryman Abdessalam Benjelloun that he had no chance of signing him.
Mowbray's prolonged chase for the 22-year-old finally ended yesterday after the club cut through red tape to be granted a work permit for Zemmama. Despite his lack of appearances for the Moroccan national side, Hibs provided evidence to an appeals panel of his worth to win their case. The diminutive playmaker, who has impressed in a five-week training spell at Easter Road, has penned the lengthy contract such is the talent Mowbray believes he possesses.
The news will have taken Benjelloun by surprise, who scoffed at the notion Mowbray could land Zemmama from Raja Casablanca due to his reputation. Zemmama will now return home to get the necessary work permit before his formal signing is completed in the coming days.
Mowbray said: "He was on our radar well before we signed Benji [in April] but we were under the impression there was no way we could get a player of his quality.
"Even speaking to Benji he laughed and said we would not get him because he was too good. But we kept persevering, our people over there kept persevering as well and it's paid off for us. He has been here five weeks and I have no fears he is going to do exceptionally well.
"I cannot wait to get him on the football pitch to let everyone see what he can do. It's important not to build him up too much. People have to be prepared to let him settle into our way of life and our football, but his talent will be evident.
"He is a Russell Latapy-type player. But he can run, fast and long and get himself about the pitch, as well as having all the technique and skill."