Stevie Mallan was compared to Lubo Moravcik last week by Hibs manager Neil Lennon and the 22-year-old has revealed how he learned his set-piece craft in the unlikely, modest surroundings of Beechwood Park – home of junior club Auchinleck Talbot.
The Easter Road midfielder has scored nine goals this season, all from outside the box. His strike rate prompted Lennon to liken him to Slovakian playmaker Moravcik, who was famed for his set-piece deliveries and the sweet way he struck a ball.
Mallan comes from a proud footballing stock, his dad Stevie senior a stalwart for Queen of the South, Clyde and Arbroath before moving to the Juniors. The younger Mallan has revealed how he used to steal the show when he was a kid.
He explained: “From the ages of around seven to around 14, I would watch all of my dad’s games. My boys club games were on a Sunday so I’d go with him on a Saturday.
“He was with Glenafton and then Auchinleck Talbot and I used to take part in the warm-up. I would get the chance to do some shooting and warm up the goalies. It helped them and for me it was a way to practise.
“The Talbot manager Tommy Sloan used to give me balls and send me away to work the keepers and I would hit shots from the edge of the box and hit free-kicks. All of the Talbot boys would stand and watch and a lot of the locals knew who I was by watching what I was doing on the park and they hoped I would go on and do well. So I’m glad I’ve lived up to that reputation and started to do what they all hoped I would.
“I can trace all that I’ve achieved so far back to those days hitting shots as a kid, 100 per cent. I have a lot of fond memories from that time.
“It was always about football for me; I didn’t see myself doing anything else. Every weekend revolved around football. It was either watching my dad or being involved in my own game. There was no way I didn’t see myself making it.
“I didn’t see it as practice back then, to me it was just fun. What has made me successful at what I do with free-kicks is that I actually enjoyed practising them. There are aspects to the game such as the fitness side which are hard work. Things like running are things I never enjoyed but you’d be a bit weird if you did.
“Having time with the ball and just playing the game is what I love. I have never once regarded that as training.”
Mallan, who is set to feature for Scotland Under-21s against England at Tynecastle on Tuesday, admits he was thrilled to hear Lennon talk him up. But rather than Moravick, his idol was another player famed for his technique.
He said: “When I was growing up I watched Paul Scholes more than David Beckham because he was more my height. I loved his goals and his shooting ability. Scholes was my hero when I was growing up.
“Everyone has his own technique, some go for power and hitting a ball was something I kept working on. I’ve shown some of the boys what I do and they haven’t been able to do it. It’s all down to practice but other boys have other aspects to their game which is strong.
“It was a brilliant comment to hear; being compared to someone like Lubo is far better than being slaughtered. I can’t complain with that so I’ll take the compliment from the manager. The gaffer has played with a lot of top players in his career so to be compared with someone like that is phenomenal. It shows that I’m doing not too badly just now and he’s liking what I’m doing.
“It’s about what I can bring to the table for the team and touch wood, so far I’ve done what has been asked of me. It’s now about trying to keep it going, especially in the big games we have coming up.
“The manager has been telling me to shoot a lot more, especially last Saturday. I could have taken on a shot and I could hear the gaffer on the sidelines going mental for not doing it. I thought a pass was on and he was roaring at me to shoot.
“It shows you what he sees in me and I want to improve and be able to do it against the bigger clubs, against Celtic, Rangers and Hearts. That’s when you see how we are a team and how we are in the league.”
Hibs are away to Celtic and Hearts in their next two games which will produce a real test of Hibs’ title credentials, and the ex-St Mirren and Barnsley star can’t wait for the games.
He pointed out: “If we want to do well and dominate in the league then the big teams are ones we need to beat. Hibs have a good record against Celtic, Hearts and Rangers going back to last season and with the side we now have I believe we can replicate that and do one better. It’s an exciting time to be at Hibs.”