HAVING scored a decisive goal and a penalty on his debut to help Hearts reach a cup final, Michael Ngoo thought his day was complete. Then he met John Robertson. The pair engaged in conversation and, by the end of it, Ngoo was hooked on Hearts. It was a fitting end to his perfect day at Easter Road just 24 hours since he completed a loan move from Liverpool.
At 6ft 4in, with a hulking frame and size 11 feet, Ngoo could be described as Robertson’s antithesis. However, the pair share a common interest in bulging nets which saw them strike up an instant rapport. “It was a big honour to meet John,” said Ngoo. “He is the all-time top goalscorer and I know how difficult it is to score goals. For him to score 27 goals in the Edinburgh derbies is fantastic. I got a real buzz from meeting him and it was great to talk to him.
“I’m still on a high from Saturday, my confidence is high and I want to take that into tonight’s game. The last few days have been a bit overwhelming, actually. I’ve come here to do a job and I just want to continue that in every game we play.”
Ngoo could do worse than study footage of Robertson at his peak as he prepares for a home debut against Dundee at Tynecastle tonight. Yet the giant Londoner – who had never even set foot in Scotland until last Thursday – had the luxury of growing up surrounded by the English Premier League’s finest talents. He was reared in West Ham United’s youth academy, spent a brief trial at Manchester United and has been at Liverpool since 2009. Along the way, there were plenty priceless opportunities to study and learn from world-class strikers.
“I used to watch Thierry Henry [below] all the time. Seeing him play as a young kid was the best thing you could do,” continued Ngoo. “The goals he used to score and the positions he used to get into were outstanding. Just watching his runs was fantastic.
“As I got older I watched guys like Didier Drogba and Emmanuel Adebayor and other players who have come to the Premier League in England.
“I’ve tried to add little bits of their game to my own. Being strong, holding up the ball, bringing others into play and being a threat in behind, that’s what I can do. I think I’ve picked up some of those things from these players and I can only get better because I’m still a young player. My size and my strength are my biggest attributes. I’m quick as well so I can get in behind defences. The most important thing is scoring goals.”
In that regard, he began as he means to go on against Inverness. Ngoo is now firmly focused on the next few months in Edinburgh. He is due to return to Liverpool at the end of the season when coaches at Anfield will hope to welcome back a more developed and rounded player than the one who left. For now, it is all about making an impact in Scotland. He certainly has the build for it.
“As a young kid growing up, my size hindered me because I was a bit baggy,” he explained. “I think over the last year or two I’ve gone through some growth spurts. Liverpool have been tremendous. They didn’t give up on me, they waited and they tried to help me with all sorts of techniques as well. I’m really pleased with that. I knew it was physical in Scotland and the pace of the game is very quick. You need to have technique to play here.
“I think Liverpool know what I’m capable of, that’s not on my mind at the moment. My objective is to help Hearts any way I can and do my best up here. That’s the first and last thing on my mind right now. When the loan finishes, then I’ll think about other things. Any team that plays in Europe is a big team. Hearts play in Europe regularly so I knew I was coming to a very good team.”
And after only one appearance, he has a cup final to look forward to as Hearts begin preparations for the Scottish Communities League Cup finale against St Mirren on March 17. “It’s a buzz. It’s amazing for me to come up and be in a final already,” said Ngoo. “I didn’t even know I was going to play. On Friday the manager was handing out bibs at training and he announced the team and I was in. I looked at it as an objective to give my best for the team.”
Ngoo will lead the Hearts forward line again this evening hoping to mark his home debut with the kind of finish he produced against Inverness at Easter Road. Lashing the equaliser made him an instant hero with the Tynecastle support, although he is eager to deflect the adulation when questioned about it.
Perhaps his most endearing quality is humility. He has travelled north to better himself and does not concur with those who feel any footballer worth their salt plies his trade in England.
More pertinently for Hearts, he believes some of the young players in John McGlynn’s first-team squad could easily hold their own playing south of the Border.
Many of them will be alongside Ngoo in tonight’s team to face Dundee.
“Every coach has different opinions so I don’t believe being down in England is necessarily the best place you can learn and develop,” he said. “There are some young players here at Hearts who could play down south and do a job. If you train specifically to be strong at certain things then you can have a decent shot at becoming a professional footballer.”
As he said, Ngoo trained specifically to score goals. Pointers from legends like John Robertson can only help.