Lewis Stevenson reckons Abdellah Zoubir has what it takes to cope with the rough and tumble of the Scottish Premiership after the French kid left him with a black eye.
While 21-year-old Zoubir’s trickery has already made him a firm favourite with the Easter Road support, some have questioned whether the on-loan FC Istres midfielder can thrive in the more physical Scottish game.
But although he admits Zoubir has come from a “totally different” style of football, Stevenson has no doubts he’ll thrive in Edinburgh just like mercurial Moroccan Merouane Zemmama.
The defender revealed he was left sporting a “shiner” after Zoubir caught him with a stray elbow during a training session, an incident which left the new arrival protesting his innocence.
Stevenson said: “I changed direction, but because I’m small, his elbow caught me in the left eye. It was one of those things – he didn’t mean it. People ask if he’s going to struggle with the physical side of our game, but, to me, he doesn’t have a problem with that. It’s more the language barrier.
“Zouby is something different to what we have. He’s come from a totally different style of football and while you can get frustrated with him at times he’ll then come up with a bit of magic which can change a game like that. He shows great quality in training, he has something different and there’s really not a lot of home-grown players like him.”
Stevenson agreed comparisons with former Hibee Merouane Zemmama were inevitable, but he said: “Zouby is probably even more direct than him. He goes past people and you think ‘how did he do that?’ He’s still young, he’s going to improve and hopefully he will stick around a while and show us how good he is.”
The arrival of Zoubir and Kilmarnock striker Paul Heffernan on transfer deadline day has, in Stevenson’s estimation, seen Hibs boss Pat Fenlon build the best squad he’s seen at Easter Road since John Collins’ side won the League Cup six years ago, the team in 2007 boasting players such as Scott Brown, Steven Whittaker, Zemmama, David Murphy, Steven Fletcher and Abdessallam Benjelloun.
Stevenson, who was named man-of-the-match in the 5-1 crushing of Kilmarnock at Hampden in that final, said: “We had a very good squad then, but I honestly think this current squad is as good as anything I have been involved in.”
A 3-0 hammering by Inverness Caley Thislte last time out will undoubtedly lead many to question Stevenson’s assessment but, he insisted, he and his team-mates have the chance to prove that result was nothing more than a blip when they face Premiership new boys Partick Thistle at Firhill tonight ahead of the next international break.
He said: “It would be good to get a win and put on a show because if we don’t it’s a long time until our next game.”