OF ALL the signings made by Scottish clubs during the transfer window, perhaps the most intriguing was Jorge Claros.
As late as last Saturday, the 26-year-old midfielder, nicknamed Pitbull, was a target for Rangers. Three days later he was a Hibernian player, having joined on a year’s loan from Motagua. Of the eight new recruits at Easter Road, the Honduran is by far the one of whom most is expected in the fight against relegation. He has been spoken of highly by everyone who Hibs manager Pat Fenlon consulted, including Ibrox sources.
Rangers manager Ally McCoist suggested after his team’s 4-0 win over Hibs that he had enough midfielders in his squad already, and that Claros could well be surplus to requirements. But the feeling remains that Hibs’ gain could prove to be Rangers’ loss, and that McCoist’s decision not to sign Claros was at least influenced by the difficult financial situation at his club.
No matter why the player ended up at Easter Road, there was no doubting Fenlon’s delight at having captured a man of his pedigree, whom he signed after watching him take part in a bounce game at East Mains on Monday. “He looks like a step up in quality,” the manager said yesterday. “I didn’t know too much about him, to be honest. I got a call on the bus on the way back from Ibrox about him, and we followed it up from there. We got him in and had a look at him in the game. “I spoke to a few people at Rangers as well, and a couple of other people around had seen him play. He seems to be an impressive player.”
Fenlon went on to explain that he was unsure why Claros did not join the champions, but was convinced he had found a player with the qualities to fit quickly into Scottish football.
“They [the Rangers sources] thought he was very, very decent. Whatever happened there I don’t know, but everybody spoke really highly of him. We got him in for 45 minutes of the game and he did quite well.
“It’s nothing to do with me what Rangers do. We’re obviously glad that he was still available and we were able to take him. He’s now at Hibs and that’s it.
“He’s our player and he brings something different to the squad. He’s played at a really high level with his country. I think sometimes [there are concerns] when you’re looking at players coming from that area – we got offered one or two other boys from that neck of the woods...
“We just thought his attitude and the way he plays the game is not typical of that type of player.
“He wants to put his foot in as well and he works hard. I think he’ll be OK adapting. He might find a problem adapting to the weather but I don’t think the game itself will be a major problem to him.
“He likes that side of the game, where normally players coming from that side of the world don’t want to rough it a bit.
“It’s important that we got someone in that wants to play and wants to be able to work hard and defend. He’s the kind of player we’re looking for, and it gives him a chance to express himself and make a big future for himself in the game.”
Claros is unavailable for tomorrow’s Scottish Cup tie at Easter Road against Kilmarnock as his work permit has still to be finalised but he is expected to play in next week’s league game against Aberdeen. “It’s just unfortunate that he’s not going to be available this week but, hopefully, the following week we may get him in,” Fenlon added. “We look forward to getting him in and working with him.
“He’s a decent, decent player. Where we are at the moment we need people who are going to dig in. And he’s well capable of doing that.”
Having brought in so many players, Fenlon needs all of them to adapt quickly, and he appears confident they will do so.
“We’re happy enough. We’ve got cover in everywhere and it’s important we got fresh legs and new bodies into different areas of the team,” said the Dubliner.
“It’s obviously a challenge for everybody, to get them into the team and get to know each other. Jorge’s English is not brilliant, so we need to work on that with him a little bit.
“But most of them are experienced players. They know what it’s about, so it shouldn’t take too much time to get them into the team. It’ll be a challenge for everybody, I suppose, but it’s something we’re looking forward to.”
Of the eight new signings, only two, striker Eoin Doyle and left-back Pa Kujabi, have joined permanently rather than on loan. If Fenlon was therefore charged with thinking in the short term, he would plead guilty, on the grounds that Hibs cannot afford to think further ahead until such time as they have secured their future in the SPL.
“The important thing for the club at the moment is short term – it’s about making sure we stay in the league. Then there will be a time to build things for the future. At the moment we need to stay focused on what the job is, and the job is lifting us up the table and picking up wins.”
Like Claros, Kujabi has a nickname: “The Gambian Roberto Carlos.” Watching the defender in training, however, Fenlon was reminded not of the Real Madrid and Brazil legend but of a much-travelled Ireland international.
“He looks like a really good prospect for us at left-back – attacks well but wants to defend. He probably reminds me a bit of Terry Phelan.”
‘The Gambian Terry Phelan’ doesn’t quite have the same ring to it. But it may well catch on.