According to the man himself, Jamie Maclaren was “a nobody” when he arrived at Hibs last January. The Australian striker has cautioned anyone against attaching this label to compatriot Mark Milligan.
As well as re-signing Maclaren on loan from little known German side Darmstadt to partner Florian Kamberi up front, Neil Lennon has quickly reshaped his midfield following the departure of John McGinn to Aston Villa and Dylan McGeouch to Sunderland.
The likes of Emerson Hyndman, Stevie Mallan and Daryl Horgan, who scored Hibs’ winner in Sunday’s Betfred Cup victory over Ross County, have settled in quickly. Now Hibs are awaiting the arrival of Milligan, who is due to join up with his new teammates this week after being freed by Saudi Arabian side Al Ahli.
Lennon has already outlined some of the 33-year-old’s qualities. Among them are experience and a robustness set to bolster a Hibs midfield that, while long on talent, remains short on physical presence. Lennon referred to the “seven dwarfs” when reflecting on his side’s physical make-up after Sunday’s victory over Ross County.
Maclaren endorsed his manager’s comments about Milligan yesterday while stressing he is not a like-for-like replacement for McGinn, who was such a popular and successful player at Easter Road.
“What John has done at Hibs in the last few years has been fantastic,” said Maclaren. “It has been nothing short of remarkable for his age, growing up and representing Scotland and stuff like that. You can’t put too much pressure on players coming in. You’ve got to be yourself at some point. John brought his own attributes. Players like Emerson and Millsy (Milligan) and Daryl will come in with experience. They are their own players.”
Maclaren likened the situation to when he and Kamberi arrived in the last transfer window. Few knew what to expect. “Flo and I came in last year as kind of nobodies in Scotland,” he said. “You kind of bring your own flair. You have to put John in the past now and focus on the future although what he did was fantastic. The other players will bring something special. I can see another successful season.”
Milligan, reports Maclaren, is a bona fide legend in Australia so there should be no fears about his impact. The midfielder’s ambition to play in Europe is only now being realised following problems with his passport combined with Australia’s previously lowly FIFA world ranking. The Socceroos are now in the top 50, which means a permit to play in Europe can be sanctioned.
Milligan’s entire playing career has been spent in Asia. Despite featuring in four successive World Cups for Australia stretching back to 2006, it means some are to be convinced of his worth.
“Us Aussies like to think we’re humble but he’s someone who has had such a great career in terms of Australia and the things he has done in Asia,” said Maclaren. “You don’t get 71 caps for Australia if you are not a good player. He has been around the national team for almost 15 years. He’s a fantastic player and also a great person. If the gaffer needs him one day, he will be able to rely on him because he is such a leader out there. He will bring a wealth of experience.”
But it was also a case of Scotland being sold to Milligan. Maclaren was an enthusiastic salesperson while they were both spending time together during the recent World Cup in Russia.
It helps that so many Australians are currently based in Scotland. Celtic have recently signed Manchester City winger Daniel Arzani on loan and he has joined up with Tom Rogic, who has just signed a new five- year contract at Parkhead. Meanwhile, both sides of Edinburgh can currently boast Socceroo representation; Ben Garuccio, Ryan Edwards and Oliver Bozanic are all at Hearts.
“There were a lot of conversations that we had,” said Maclaren. “Even when I spoke to him at the World Cup, he was asking me about Scotland.
“He knows it through Tommy Rogic as well and seeing Arzani there now. Even with the three boys at Hearts, there is a lot of Aussie influence in Scotland now. The conversations I had with Mark over the last few weeks have been very positive. I have told him about the club.
“I said: ‘it’s a big club mate, believe me. You will enjoy the city’. For him, it was about his family really enjoying life and coming over.
“I told him ‘mate, the standard is quality’. He wants to be a part of something successful and that’s what we’re building here.
“He was asking about the club. I don’t think, at that time, any discussions had taken place. In the last month, we have spoken quite a bit. I have told him the positives and I have told him not too many negatives.
“That’s going off my experience since I have been here. I have not had too many negatives. That’s a great thing for me to pass on to him, but he’s experienced.
“He doesn’t need a 25-year-old to tell him what to do. He has seen the success we had last season and I think he wants to be a part of that this year.”