Vykintas Slivka may not have made the breakthrough at Juventus but the new Hibernian signing enjoyed a first-class football education.
Signed by the Italian giants when he was still a teenager, the Lithuanian midfielder was able to train with a host of the sport’s biggest stars, including Andrea Pirlo and Paul Pogba, and gained first-hand insight into what it takes to make the grade.
“Players like Pirlo and Pogba worked hard at their game every day. They would do extra after training and work on their technique whenever possible. I watched what they did and tried to learn from it.
“It was a special experience for such a young guy. One moment you see these guys on TV, then you are on a training pitch with them – trying to learn all of their secrets. But I tried not to be intimidated. We are all playing the same game and trying to do the same things on the football pitch,” said the man who made his competitive debut for the Easter Road side on Saturday, coming on for the final 25 minutes of their League Cup win over Alloa Athletic.
In his three years linked to the Turin team, he was loaned out to clubs in the lower realms of the Italian game, as well as getting first-team football in Slovenia and Holland, but it is the lessons learned on the Juve training ground that stick with him.
“Life was good at Juventus. The weather was great! They are a top club, with amazing facilities, a great coach and great players, so they give you everything you need to grow and improve. As a midfielder, it gave me the chance to train with some of the best players in the world in that position like [Paul] Pogba and [Andrea] Pirlo.
“Pogba was so funny. He would always have a smile and a joke. But, even with that, you could see he was an unbelievable talent from the beginning. No-one would bet that someone would buy him for £90 million, but you could see he was going to do something very big in football.
“Pirlo was just as laid back and relaxed as everyone thinks! He runs when he has to, but no more. But that is because he has the confidence and the quality to play like that. He was a really classy man. You could always ask for advice and speak to him. He would give you time, which I really liked about him.
“It was a great grounding at Juventus but now I want to make a name for myself in Scotland and do well.”
A creative player, who says he loves open football, he is positive about the impact Neil Lennon’s men can make on the Premiership on their return to the top flight.
“My target with Hibs is to win a trophy in Scotland and finish as high up the league as possible.
“We all know that Celtic are the big favourites to win it, but who knows.
“The most important thing is the team. You can’t just think about yourself. The team comes first – that is always my philosophy.”
The Scottish game is one the 22-year-old knows well, thanks to the migration of several of his countrymen to the capital in the past and the spotlight that shone on the leagues.
“In Lithuania, you always know a lot about the Scottish league and football here. There were so many Lithuanian players in Scotland so you watched their progress.
“I knew about Hibs straight away, they are a big club in Edinburgh and Scotland, with a big history. So it was nice that they had an interest in me and I was happy to come here. And I knew of Neil Lennon. I knew that he was the Celtic coach.”
He also managed to sample the Scottish game first hand in October, when he helped Lithuania to a draw against Gordon Strachan’s national side in the World Cup qualifying group match.
“It was amazing to play at Hampden. I have great memories of that game. It was a great crowd. Experiencing that noise has given me an idea of what it will be like in all the big stadiums in Scotland. My only regret is that we lost a last-minute equaliser but it was a good game and a great atmosphere and playing against Scottish midfielders also gave me an idea of what to expect in this country.”
lBBC ALBA will show 38 matches, first and in full from the Scottish Premiership this season as well as selected live games from the Championship, League 1 & League 2. The first featured match is Hibs v Partick Thistle, in full from 5.30pm on Saturday.