Every game for Hibs is now a cup final for Stephane Omeonga

Hibs midfielder Stephane Omeonga believes Scottish football is on the right track despite the disappointment of the national team's recent results. Picture: SNS.
Hibs midfielder Stephane Omeonga believes Scottish football is on the right track despite the disappointment of the national team's recent results. Picture: SNS.
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Stephane Omeonga is finding his feet. Indulging in museum and castle visits during his free time, he is also getting to grips with the variations in what merits an in-house fine here and on the continent

But, most importantly, the Belgium Under-21 player, who signed on loan from Serie A club Genoa in January, is getting up to speed with what it takes to prosper in the Scottish top flight and is hoping that his ability to deal with the added vigour will bolster his hopes of representing his country at the Under-21 European Championships this summer.

Sais Omeonga: “I was speaking with a friend recently and I told him: ‘Every game is a final for me right now’. I have to be in that Belgium Under-21 squad in the summer and we have some big goals to achieve at Hibs. If I am playing at a good level, then some good things can happen for me.

“I think the squad for the Euros is announced at the end of May and it definitely depends on how I finish the season at Hibs.

“When I went back to Belgium [for the recent squad get-together that ended in defeat by the Danish Under-21s], the manager told me he was watching all of the games that I have played – except Motherwell, which was my best performance! That is a big boost for my confidence. I know he does not like to change his group too much, so I have more chance to be in the squad. It all depends on me.

“At the beginning it was difficult, I was not playing and had to ask myself some questions. But now I am playing and I hope it will continue that way and I am in the international squad, which is important.

“The intensity here has been the biggest thing I have learned. In the midfield, you don’t have any time to think, everything is done quickly and you need to make an 
impact. “

Now in the top six, the team could actually leapfrog rivals Hearts and move into fifth if they can better Livingston at the Energy Assets Arena this evening and while the upsurge in results has coincided with the arrival of new manager Paul Heckingbottom, who is unbeaten in five league outings, the form of Omeonga and fellow arrival Marc McNulty has bolstered performances and belief.

“It all depends on what we do, not the opposition,” added Omeonga. “I hope for a win. We always go for the win because it is very important for us in the league to be in the top six and stay in the top six.”

While there is doom and gloom following the recent exploits of the Scotland national team, Omeonga contradicts the negativity, saying that, on the evidence he has seen, the nation has a decent foundation on which to build.

“The senior squad for Belgium is amazing,” he said. “You are talking about Hazard, De Bruyne and other major, special players. The Scottish team cannot compare themselves to that sort of opponent because it is difficult for any country to produce those players.

“Scottish football does not need to change, because I learned a lot when I came here about the pace and intensity of football. Maybe just expand and put more focus on technical things.

“What Belgium is doing well is the technical part of the game. They invest a lot of money in the youth players and the international squads are so good through the age groups because the clubs invest on the structure and devote time to youth development.

“When I was 14, I was training seven times a week. It is a lot for a young player but that brings results. There is definitely a focus on skill and technique.”

But there are definitely cultural differences, as Omeonga discovered when he celebrated his 23rd birthday this week and fell foul of the dressing-room rule book.

“In Belgium you don’t bring cake! Here it is on the list of fines; if you don’t bring cake then you get a fine,” said the midfielder. “But Stevie [Mallan] saved me because it was his birthday on Monday so he brought some cake and I brought it the next day.”