Stephane Omeonga says it’s great to be wanted as he joins Hibs

Stephane Omeonga admits that he didn’t know an awful lot about Scottish football when he first heard of Hibernian’s interest in him but, growing frustrated by the dwindling number of first- team opportunities at Genoa, simply knowing that he was wanted was incentive enough for him to dig deeper.

New Hibs signing Stephane Omeonga at the East Mains training centre. Picture: Paul Devlin/SNS
New Hibs signing Stephane Omeonga at the East Mains training centre. Picture: Paul Devlin/SNS

“I talked with Faycal Rherras who was here I think two years ago,” said the 22-year- old who has been described as a dynamic midfielder. “Also with Dolly Menga at Livingston. I talked with them and they told me, as I young player, I’ll take good experience from here and I will definitely fit in. They know how I can play and what I can bring.”

Coming through the youth ranks with Menga at Standard Liege in Belgium, Omeonga honed his trade at Anderlecht before moving to Italy.

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After 30 games for Avellino in Serie B, he was given his chance in the top tier with Genoa, making 22 appearances and mixing it with the likes of Inter Milan and Juventus.

However changes of management affected his opportunities and, with the European U-21 Championships in mind, Omeonga is now keen to get back to regular football to guarantee his place in the Belgian squad for this summer’s tournament.

“For the moment, I just think about the Euros in the summer. I want to be in that team. I cannot take the risk to not play and not make that tournament. It’s a big thing in a career, to play in something like that. I will give my best every day in training and in every game to make that squad.

“It’s very exciting. The senior team are getting older, you know? Dembele is moving to China, he’s a midfielder, so there is some space! I have to think about that in my move. That’s why I came here.”

There were other options but a presentation prepared by Hibs swung it, making it clear how Omeonga could contribute.

“The biggest thing was that they wanted me. When a club want you, they show you they have an idea and a project to build around you. That’s what I wanted. I didn’t have that in Genoa. When I was watching the presentation I just thought it was a fantastic place. The stadium, the fans, I just wanted to come here.

“You know, when you first hear about Scotland… me, I’m from Belgium and playing in Italy, so my thoughts were: ‘Scotland? I don’t know.’ But one week later, you’ve made your research, spoken to the right people and I said: ‘OK, I’m going. For sure.’”

Club appearances this season have been limited but league outings against AC Milan, Napoli and Inter, as well as impressive training sessions with his new clubmates have convinced Hibs boss Neil Lennon, pictured, that Omeonga is capable of playing his part against Motherwell when Hibs return to Premiership duty at Fir Park tonight.

Lennon said: “It takes a lot to get me excited at my age but we like his qualities, his attitude to the game and his energy,

“We were looking for a bit more pace and energy in the midfield area and he has looked good in training. The British game is different from Serie A and, although he has played at a brilliant level, he may take a bit of time to adapt to the physicality of the game here, or he may take to it like a duck to water.

“Looking at him in training he has looked absolutely fine and he knows what is required. He is an intelligent boy and speaks three or four languages. You don’t need to give him to many instructions and he seems to understand.”

Although trying not to hype Omeonga up too much, Lennon does see some real quality in the newcomer, if comparisons are anything to judge by.

“Who does he remind me of? He’s a bit like [N’Golo] Kante. He gets around the pitch and, although he’s diminutive in size, he’s strong and reads the game well. He’s really effervescent, he doesn’t stop running and tactically he is very good. I don’t want to build him up, saying ‘I’ve got the new Kante’, but there are similar attributes there. The kid has a great attitude and work ethic.”