Hibs’ latest signing Farid El Alagui today revealed how he turned his back on the Scottish Premiership, insisting: “The Championship is the place to be.”
The former Falkirk hot-shot was a target for both St Johnstone and Dundee after becoming a free agent at the end of last season, but, he revealed, just one look at the respective fixture lists convinced him he’d be better off in the second tier.
The prospect of playing in a league which has all but been conceded to Celtic yet again before a ball has even be kicked simply didn’t appeal to the 28-year-old. However, the challenge of helping steer relegated Hibs back to the big time with Capital rivals and Hearts in opposition most certainly did.
Today the Bordeaux-born Moroccan hitman declared himself up for the fight, disclosing it took him next to no time after speaking to Hibs new head coach Alan Stubbs that he was making the right decision in opting for Easter Road rather Tayside.
El Alagui, who hopes to make his debut at some point during Sunday’s friendly against Stirling Albion at Forthbank, said: “I heard of Hibs’ interest last week. I met Alan Stubbs at the training ground on Friday and everything was agreed very quickly thereafter.
“I think the Championship is the place to be this season. It was more appealing to me than the Premiership where, I think, we know what will happen. Celtic will win the title – that’s normal – but in the Championship you don’t know who is going to get promoted. There are going to be a lot of big games – will Rangers come back, will Hearts? – while we, obviously, are going to see if we can be promoted.
“You just need to look at our first few games to see what I mean. We’re away to Rangers in the first match and then our second league game is Hearts at Tynecastle. That’s great. They are big games, the sort you want to be involved in as a player.”
El Alagui was very much an unknown when he first arrived in Scotland three years ago having started his career in the lower leagues in France, but his name was very quickly on the lips of everyone as he began a goal-spree which eventually saw him score 27 in 43 appearances for the Bairns – two of them in a League Cup win over Rangers.
In goal for the Ibrox club that night was a certain Neil Alexander, now No.1 at Hearts and, El Alagui admitted, he was looking to renewing his acquaintance with both Rangers and the ex-Scotland goalkeeper in due course.
He said: “I also played against Celtic in that League Cup run, although we were beaten by them in the semi-final, but scoring twice against Rangers was a memorable game for me because I hadn’t been in Scotland very long.”
While Rangers are recognised as having the strongest squad in the Championship, a fact which makes them firm favourites to take the title and with it the one automatic promotion place, El Alagui pointed out that they also had a stronger team as they went down to him and his team-mates, adding: “In 90 minutes, anything can happen.
“But it’s a different story over the course of a season when you have a lot of games to play and how you manage to play difficult matches. That’s the tricky thing.”
Having signed a two-year deal with Hibs, El Alagui insisted he’s done so with the fervent hope that by the time this contract comes to an end he’ll be playing back in the Premiership. He said: “I don’t want to stay in the Championship, I want to be promoted and play with Hibs in the top division. That would be great”
And while stating the obvious that being relegated is “not the best thing,” El Alagui argued that he’s arrived at Easter Road at the dawn of a new era as Stubbs takes charge of a first team for the first time following his impressive “apprenticeship” as coach to Everton’s Under-21 side during which he helped steer the likes of Ross Barkley and Seamus Coleman to stardom.
He said: “It’s a new start for everyone. It’s the manager’s first club, a chance to rebuild.”
El Alagui also sees it as a fresh opportunity for himself, his highly impressive goals tally for Falkirk earning him a move to English club Brentford where, after a promising start, he suffered a serious knee injury and thereafter struggled to regain his place, a situation which saw him spend the latter half of last season on loan at Dundee United where one of his three goals in a tangerine shirt came – whisper it – against Hibs at Easter Road.
He said: “Obviously I was something of an unknown when I came to Falkirk. Now everyone knows me and that makes it a bit tougher, but I have to deal with it. It doesn’t change anything for me. I just want to play my football and give me best as I always do.
“Last season was hard to get through – being injured isn’t the best part of your life. It was tough, but I learned from it. I’m really hungry and I just want to play. I scored for Dundee United against Hibs, but now I just want to do that for Hibs and hopefully the fans will enjoy the football we try to play and that they are happy with their team.”
El Alagui’s “lucky” pound coin became almost as well known as his goals and, he revealed, he’s brought it with him to Easter Road hoping the Hibs fans will see plenty of it.
He explained: “I found it on the pitch as I warmed up for my first league game with Falkirk and our coach Lee Bullen told me to keep it, that it would be lucky and that I would score.
“Lee kept it and when I scored I went over to kiss it. At Dundee United, I needed to find someone who was superstitious and Darren Jackson told me that when he played he was always the last player to go out on the pitch, so I asked him to keep it for me at Tannadice.
“Now I need to find someone at Easter Road to take charge of it, someone who is superstitious, who believes. Hopefully I’m going to see a lot of it with Hibs and I’m looking forward to that.”