Hibs’ Florian Kamberi keen to forget Neil Lennon spat as he focuses on brighter future under Paul Heckingbottom
Viewed by many as the scapegoat while Hibernian struggled to get going last season, Florian Kamberi was the focus of intense scrutiny as former manager Neil Lennon’s tenure then came to an abrupt halt.
But this season he is keen to hog headlines for another reason.
Acknowledging the tumult of last season, which ate away at his confidence and at one stage led to him clearing his locker in the wake of yet another verbal onslaught from his former manager, the Swiss striker insists that while he was surprised by how quickly things turned sour, he never reached breaking point and instead maintains that the experience toughened him up and left him better placed to deal with any ups and downs in the future.
“I have a very hard mentality so they will not make me feel down and want to just stay in my bed, thinking ‘why is it like this?’ I have good people around me, with my management and my family and they discuss things with me and help me to do better and deal with things but it wasn’t the best season last year. I will take the positives from it and I know what to do better and I am very confident and looking ahead with good eyes into a better future.”
After an impressive loan spell, in the second half of 2017-18, when Kamberi scored nine goals in 14 appearances to help the Leith side qualify for Europe in their first season back in the top flight, the club paid money to land him on a permanent contract last summer. But with injury niggles and a change in personnel around him, the goals were not as forthcoming. That was not helped by a positional switch when he was asked to play out wide rather than through the middle and when the pressure started to mount, an angry Lennon singled out his main frontman on several occasions.
Publicly at least, he expresses no ill will, the 24 year-old wishing Lennon well in Glasgow, where the former Easter Road boss helped Celtic wrap up two of their three trophies last season. Keen to put the whole episode behind him, the Hibs player, who opened his scoring account for this season against Arbroath in the Betfred Cup on Tuesday night, says he is focused on a brighter future under the current management team, who he describes as “very good people”.
If there was a cloud hanging over the club in the latter days of Lennon’s reign, his successor Paul Heckingbottom, pictured, quickly turned things around and eased the club into the top six, finishing above city rivals Hearts.
“I think the atmosphere is very, very good with this manager,” said Kamberi. “Everybody is confident and, of course, if you are winning games, then it is even better. That gives everybody even more belief.
“I think it could be a very good season for us, absolutely. We have done well in pre-season and although we still have things to improve, the season will be long and the goal is always to be better than the last season. I think that is the goal of every player and the manager wants to make every player better and I think that is the most important thing.
“Every season is like a new chance, not just for me, for every player. I feel very good. I came back in good condition after the holidays and I did a lot of work during the holidays. I feel sharp and I feel confident and focused so I can’t wait for the league to start.
“Last season made me stronger and now I feel very good. I don’t look back. I will just look forward and focus on the future.”
The return of Scott Allan has added to Kamberi’s renewed positivity. There have been chances created in the early-season matches and, while Heckingbottom would like to see a higher percentage of those turned into goals, his Swiss striker believes that the creativity will convert to a decent haul as the season kicks into gear.
“Absolutely, we saw that with Josh Vela on Tuesday night and that was the first time I had played with Scotty since that Rangers game when we drew 5-5 [at the end of 2017-18 season] so there are good football players, not just players who will always play long balls and go for tackles. I think we have very good players around the club so I think this will be an exciting season.
“I was very happy that I saw Scotty had signed for Hibs and I thought he would have come in January but he didn’t. I had a great time playing with him when I was on loan and I think everybody knows that we understand each other and we have a good partnership. You saw that with the goal on Tuesday night. He knew exactly my run and I scored the goal so it was fantastic for us to play again with each other. Hopefully we will have many more games like this.”
Team-mates and a manager who seem to understand and value him. That is already an improvement on last season.