His bags were packed, but Jorge Claros wasn’t quite ready to make the cross-Atlantic trip home to Honduras. Despite completing what he felt was a successful trial with Rangers, the little midfielder found himself in limbo when there was no offer of a contract forthcoming from Ibrox boss Ally McCoist.
Although making that 5000-mile return journey to Central America to rejoin his team-mates at Club Deportivo Motagua appeared his only option, Claros decided to sit tight until the January transfer window slammed shut, simply hoping something would turn up to allow him to realise his dream of playing in Europe.
And his patience was rewarded, Hibs boss Pat Fenlon having been tipped off – ironically as he travelled back to Edinburgh having seen his side beaten 4-0 at Ibrox – that the 26-year-old may still be available and willing to sign on at Easter Road.
Forty-five minutes of a bounce match was all it took to convince Fenlon that Claros was exactly what he was looking for as he sought to transform his squad in a bid to escape the clutches of relegation – and just about as long as it took for the player to decide Hibs were the club for him.
A year-long loan deal was hammered out on transfer deadline day, allowing Claros to remain in Scotland. Today, in an exclusive interview with the Evening News, his first since signing for Hibs, Claros admitted that while he’d taken a huge decision in deciding to quit his homeland, he had no doubt he’d made the right choice in signing with the Edinburgh club.
And right from the off, he found Edinburgh a touch more welcoming than Motagua, where new players are greeted by their team-mates gathering round to give them a kick.
“Yes, that’s true,” confirmed Carlos when questioned about such a strange custom. “It’s a tradition. They also want you to scalp your hair but I said no to that.
“Here everyone just shook my hand to welcome me to the club, they’ve treated me like a member of the family. The manager, the players, the supporters, everyone has been very friendly to me.”
Born in Choloma, Honduras’ third-largest city, Claros decided from an early age that all he wanted in life was to be a footballer, making his way from playing in the streets with his mates to local sides and on to Motagua where he became firm friends with Emilio Izaguirre, who took the SPL by storm in his first season with Celtic.
Like Izaguirre, Claros was an established internationalist, having played in the 2005 Under-20 World Cup in the Netherlands where he came up against the likes of Spain’s Cesc Fabregas, David Silva and Jose Enrique as well as a certain Abdessalam Benjelloun playing for Morocco.
The 2008 Olympics in China – like a “small World Cup” according to Claros – were to follow but having seen Izaguirre enjoy such success so far from home, he became determined to attempt to emulate his best pal.
He said: “Emilio told me all about Scottish football, he was inspirational for me and I though if he could do that then I could as well.
“I’ve known Emilio since we were about 15 and, of course, we played for the same club and for Honduras. We are like brothers, very close. He did very well in his first season here, winning so many player of the year awards, it was big news back in Honduras and everyone was very happy for him.
“I felt it was time for me to leave Honduras to experience playing elsewhere. From a very young age I wanted to come to Europe, I watched football from over here on television, Spanish, Italian, Barcelona, Pep Guardiola and so on.”
At one time rumoured to be a target for Celtic boss Neil Lennon, Claros found himself arriving on these shores aiming to win himself a deal with the Hoops’ arch-rivals in Govan. His arrival was much trumpeted but despite playing two friendly games and apparently impressing McCoist, no offer was made.
As it turns out, Claros would appear to have had a narrow escape with Rangers having plunged into administration, docked ten points by the SPL for doing so and the future of the entire club and it’s playing staff clouded by uncertainty.
Claros said: “I am not happy for what has happened there, but it is nothing to do with me.
“Rangers couldn’t keep me and I didn’t know what I was going to do other than return to Honduras. But I waited until the end of January to see if someone would call and I was told Hibs were interested.
“Of course I had heard of Hibs, one of the four big Scottish teams, Celtic, Rangers, Hibs and Hearts.
“I played in one game and the manager [Pat Fenlon] said yes. The position Hibs are in never crossed my mind, it didn’t matter whether they were top or bottom of the league because everyone was so friendly to me and I could see the quality of the players here.
“Now my aim is to work hard to help bring the club up the table.
“It was frustrating not being able to play against Kilmarnock, I wanted to play but I knew I had to wait for my visa. So I was delighted to start against Aberdeen. I hadn’t played for almost a month so I know I can play better but I enjoyed that game, I loved the way the fans applauded all the small things.”
Claros has arrived saddled with the nickname “Pitbull,” although he doesn’t know the origin of it and insisting no-one should get the wrong impression of his style of play.
He said: “It was a name given to me by a member of the Press, I don’t know why. Yes, I am happy to work hard, to put in my tackles but I also enjoy getting the ball at my feet and making my passes.”
As fate would have it, Claros could find himself coming up against Izaguirre on Sunday when Hibs face Celtic at Easter Road, his old mate having been in and out of Lennon’s recent line-ups as he continues his return from the broken ankle he suffered at the beginning of the season.
He said: “I would love to play against Emilio, it wouldn’t be a problem even though he’s ‘my brother,’ part of the family. It will be fantastic to play against Celtic. I thought the atmosphere for the Aberdeen game was great. In Honduras you only get small groups of fans singing, here everyone is making a lot of noise all the time.
“I’ve been told the derby with Hearts is also something unbelievable but in Honduras we had our big matches with Motagua, the Clasico Capitalino against Olimpia who were in Tegucigalpa, the same city as us, and the Clasico de Las Ms with Marathon, so I’ll be expecting the same sort of thing when that match comes around.”
By then Claros also hopes to have come to terms with the Scottish weather, Honduras enjoying a tropical rain forest climate where the temperature rarely gets below 21C (70F), a pair of gloves were de rigeur for his debut but today Claros insisted: “I’ll get used to it.”