With nine goals in 14 appearances already for Hibs while on loan last season, Florian Kamberi would seem to have little left to prove. Supporters were delighted when he became the permanent property of the club earlier this month after signing a three-year deal.
The Swiss striker still feels he has plenty to do before he establishes himself at Easter Road, however. The No 9 jersey, worn with distinction by so many in the past, had been reserved for him when he returned.
However, Kamberi chose to remain with the No 22 shirt in which he made such an impressive impact last season after joining on loan from Grasshoppers of Zurich.
“When I came here the No 9 was prepared for me,” the 23 year-old said. “I told them, ‘no I want to keep my 22’. They were surprised. The fact I scored a lot of goals last season doesn’t mean I’m a big star suddenly.
“It doesn’t mean anything yet. I want to keep the 22 because I had a great season wearing it and it is the birthday of my father Pashk in March. It was a great experience with this number. Hopefully it’s my lucky number.”
His father’s name helped reveal an interesting detail. Although born in Zurich, Kamberi is of Kosovan Albanian descent – his father was born there. Kamberi is alert to the controversy following the ‘two-headed eagle’ – Albania’s national symbol – hand gestures made by Granit Xhaka and Xherdan Shaqiri as they celebrated scoring for Switzerland against Serbia in their World Cup Group E clash last Friday. The players have been disciplined by Fifa for what is described as “unsporting behaviour” and must pay fines of around £7,500 each.
The gesture contained loaded political overtones since both Xhaka and Shaqiri have, like Kamberi, ethnic Albanian heritage linked to Kosovo, a former Serbian province that declared independence in 2008.
Hibs are already reeling from the one-game ban meted out to manager Neil Lennon for his ‘aeroplane’ gesture following Hibs’ late equaliser to make it 5-5 against Rangers on the last day of the last league season. Kamberi laughed when asked if he would be testing the SFA’s knowledge of politically sensitive gestures by making a two-headed eagle sign after scoring next season.
He does, however, have serious designs on breaking into the Swiss national side. He has already won four Under 21 caps, scoring in a draw with England two years ago. It’s one of the reasons why he chose Hibs ahead of other interested clubs, including Sunderland.
“If you are playing for a big club in a smaller league nobody cares about you for the national team,” said Kamberi. “They [Sunderland] are playing in England’s third league. Hibs is the perfect step for me to play in the first league, in a hard league and show myself.”
Kamberi makes no secret of the fact his career plan is to move to England at some stage, preferably the top flight. “My career plan is to start the season well, win as many games as possible and then of course longer term my dream is to play in the Premier League in England,” he said.
It might help him fulfil this ambition if he could pair up again with Jamie Maclaren, pictured. Kamberi struck up a fruitful partnership with the Australian forward, who also arrived on loan at Easter Road during the January transfer window.
Maclaren even followed his pal to Dubai on holiday earlier this summer and checked into the same hotel before enduring a disappointing World Cup. He was a redundant figure again yesterday as Australia’s 2-0 defeat by Peru saw them eliminated from the competition. It also meant he had not featured in any of his country’s three matches following his late call-up to the squad.
Maclaren remains in limbo at club level. He wants to leave German club Darmstadt and return to Hibs permanently. But unlike in the case of Kamberi, whose club agreed a fee with Hibs at the start of his loan spell, Maclaren could be priced out of a move after impressing at Easter Road and with still two years of his contract left to run. Having spent time with Maclaren in Dubai, Kamberi remains optimistic something can be arranged.
“That would be great because I scored nine, he scored eight and the partnership was good for us and the club,” he said.
“It would be great if he came back. We didn’t speak a lot about football [on holiday] because speaking about it every day on holiday is too much. But we spoke a little and hopefully he will be back.
“He didn’t enjoy his time at Darmstadt and I didn’t enjoy my time at Grasshoppers. We had a good time together and for him it would be also a great opportunity to come here again and play the whole season, score many goals together and be successful for the team. But in the end he has to decide.”