Little Matthew Malonga will have a special present in his first Christmas stocking – the matchday ball presented by his dad Dominique after the Hibs star claimed the first hat-trick of his career.
The Easter Road striker, though, isn’t quite sure which of his goals he scored with the ball he eventually departed Dumbarton with following the Capital club’s 6-3 win over Ian Murray’s side because he netted with three different ones as replacements were found for those which had been booted out of the Bet Butler Stadium.
It matters little, however, to Malonga, who’s just happy his son, fast approaching his first birthday, will have a memento of his special moment while promising it will be put to good use.
Already taking his first steps, Matthew is regularly seen with a ball at his feet and is showing early signs of promise, earning an approving: “He’s not bad,” from his proud father.
“It was a special moment for me,” continued Malonga, “The first time in my career I’d scored a hat-trick and possibly one that’s unique given that all three goals came with different balls. But I’ll be taking it home to Matthew as a Christmas present as he’s already playing with a ball.”
While adamant the three points gained by Alan Stubbs’ team was more important than his own moment of glory, the hat-trick did complete a remarkable fortnight for the 25-year-old forward coming just days after he’d won his first cap for Congo, helping his country clinch their place in the finals of the Africa Cup of Nations with a 1-0 victory over Sudan.
The win in Khartoum saw Congo finish second in their qualifying group behind South Africa, their place in the finals under threat after they were beaten at home in Brazzaville by African champions Nigeria a few days earlier, a match which Malonga was forced to miss with a leg injury.
As disappointing as that might have been, though, visiting the country of his parents’ birth provided Malonga with memories he’ll treasure forever, meeting members of his extended family for the very first time, an emotional gathering during which, he isn’t afraid to admit, more than a few tears were shed.
He said: “My parents, Dominique and Adele, emigrated to France in search of work before I was born, so this was the first chance I’d had to meet my family still living in Congo. So, as you can imagine, it was a very emotional time for us all.”
And, Malonga revealed, his first trip to Africa opened his eyes, the Paris-born player said: “Having been brought up in the capital of France it was very different, I saw things I’d never seen before, the people on the street, the conditions in which they live and the poverty.
“It’s really hard for them and made me feel very lucky to be playing football and to have a such a good family behind me.”
There’s little doubt Malonga’s goals for Hibs – his treble in Dumbarton took his tally to nine in just 11 starts for Stubbs’ side – have caught the eye of Congo coach Claude Le Roy and he’s well aware each time he finds the net over the next few weeks will only increase the chances of him being named in his country’s squad for the finals in Equatorial Guinea in January, which could see him miss up to five matches for the Edinburgh club.
A double-edged sword in that respect, but having had a taste of international football, Malonga, who won two caps for the French Under-19 side before switching allegiance to Congo, is desperate to establish himself at that level even if his first jaunt saw him clock up 10,000 miles in the air, his return to Scotland coming only the day before his exploits in Dumbarton.
He said: “Yes, all the travelling can be tiring, but I want to be a good player, an international player. That’s what you have to do, it’s part of the job.
“Last week was very good for me, but the best thing was the team winning. Now I am determined only to focus on Hibs. I’m here for the next few weeks before I go away for the finals and I’m just going to think about Hibs and doing well for the club. We have a big Scottish Cup match against Alloa Athletic tomorrow, I know Hibs haven’t won it for many years, but this is another opportunity.
“Again, like every away game, it’s going to be a new experience for me, another team I haven’t played against before. I don’t like plastic pitches like the one they have, but, again, they are part of football now and you just have to do your best.
“We are in a good moment as a team, we’re focused on every training session and enjoying the games at the weekend and trying to win every one of them.”
If Malonga’s languid style perhaps raised eye-brows when he first arrived at Easter Road – although he marked his debut against Cowdenbeath – he’s quickly won himself a new army of fans, the former Monaco, Torino, Real Murcia and Cesena player admitting he’s enjoying life in Edinburgh, even if he misses the Mediterranean sunshine.
“I still love Monaco,” he sighed, “It was a good time for me as I was a Monaco fan as a boy. But I’m happy here, the atmosphere is really good. I’ve settled in well, my fitness is much better than when I first arrived.”
Even being dubbed Hibs’ own Danny Welbeck on account of the haircut he’s been sporting since his return brings a smile. And although he insisted his hairstyle hasn’t changed, he added: “He’s a good player so the comparison is fine.”