Mark Milligan was sold on Scottish football a long time ago thanks to television coverage of former Old Firm duo Craig Moore and Mark Viduka, but Hibernian’s new defensive midfielder says it was Socceroos colleague Jamie Maclaren who had him itching to sample life at Easter Road.
Having enjoyed a fruitful loan spell in the capital prior to joining up with Milligan and the rest of the Australian World Cup squad for the finals in Russia, Maclaren made it clear that rather than see out the remainder of his contract at German side Darmstadt, he was keen to return to the Scottish Premiership side.
That gave Milligan an insight into the merits of his suitors and now that the visa issues have been resolved, he is looking forward to joining forces with his countryman in the hope of bolstering Hibs’ league and cup ambitions.
“Seeing Jamie and the desire he had to come back to the club probably spoke volumes, probably even more than all the good things he had to say,” said Milligan. “Just seeing how much enjoyment he had here last season and seeing how intent he was on getting back to be a part of things this season gave me a lot of confidence and made me feel at ease when we sat down to make the final decision.”
The midfielder, who has been to four World Cups with his national side, joins a growing band of Aussies in Scottish football, but has had to be patient. Visa issues have curtailed his ambitions to play in Europe in the past and while friends and team-mates were able to spread their wings and head to the northern hemisphere, he saw trial spells at Metz, Werder Bremen, Arsenal and Manchester City come to nothing and was later denied a move to Crystal Palace as well, all because he lacked the necessary lineage.
“I have no British or European heritage so to get a visa it depends solely on our national team and their ranking over a two-year period and then on my percentage of appearances over those two years,” said the 33-year-old, as he helped promote the club’s partnership with Topps and the launch of their SPFL Match Attax collection. “The last five years I have been a regular fixture in the national team and the last nine months, since the Confederations Cup, we have been doing quite well. So that has all helped and got the move over the line.
“Sometimes it was a little bit more difficult to take but that is football and everything happens for a reason. I have had some wonderful years playing in Asia, especially in Japan, and in Australia.
“The Australian league has obviously grown. It still has a long way to go but I feel that I have contributed to what they are trying to achieve over there and that is good.”
But now that he is in Scotland, Milligan intends to make up for lost time. “It was definitely one of the reasons that I wanted to come here, that competitive edge. I’m not as young as I used to be but I still want to learn, still like a challenge,” he said.
‘I know here that, if I work hard and keep my standards up, I’ll get a chance to play and that was very appealing to me. I didn’t want to go somewhere and be sitting watching football all the time. I need to be continually tested. The gaffer here will do that. And this league will do that.”
With fellow Australians Ben Garuccio and Oliver Bozanic playing for capital rivals Hearts, the big test could come next month, when they all square up in the first Edinburgh derby of the season.
“Yeah, we don’t speak to them in [Socceroos] camp!” he joked. “No, it always helps having Australians who have lived in the city. I’ve not heard a bad word about Edinburgh.
“I know [the derbies] are very, very big games. I’ve never been fortunate enough to witness one in person but I’ve heard about them and there’s no holding back when Australians face Australians so I don’t think the friendship is going to be an influence. If anything, it’ll add a bit of extra spice to it for us.
“Australians, we’re all very, very competitive beasts and while we are close when we’re away, I guess there’s nothing better when you’re living in a foreign country when you get to face up against and beat a fellow countryman.”