Mark Milligan keen to put World Cup experience to use at Hibs
In an era when Scotland have been unable to qualify for a single World Cup, Mark Milligan has been to four of them.
The 33-year-old Australia midfielder arrives at Hibs fresh from having added Russia 2018 to a CV that already included Germany 2006, South Africa 2010 and Brazil 2014.
Needless to say, the veteran is buoyed by his accomplishments with the Socceroos.
“I’m extremely proud to have been to four World Cups,” he said in his first media engagement since signing for Hibs on a two-year contract. “Early on, we had quite a few big-name players operating at a very high level, so it was hard to break into that team.
“Obviously things have changed a lot and we’ve started to rebuild, especially over the last five years, so that period has been very, very enjoyable for me. I’ve been able to help and guide the younger ones coming through, I guess. I feel extremely privileged to play at four World Cups, but it has taken a lot of hard work and sacrifice, not just from me.”
Milligan is still on a high after representing his country in Russia this summer. “The most enjoyable World Cup was the most recent one, because it’s so fresh in my mind,” he said. “Bert van Marwijk (the manager) and Mark van Bommel were a really good fit for us. The four or five weeks before a World Cup is always very difficult and very stressful. Squads are getting cut, you’re working very hard, but what they brought to us and they taught us, as well as the brand of football they had us playing, made it very enjoyable.”
Despite his age and the fact he has now moved to Europe, Milligan, with 71 caps to his name, has no intention of retiring from international duty. “For the moment, yes I want to keep playing for Australia,” he said. “After the World Cup I sat down, first and foremost, with my wife. I have been in the set-up now for 12, 13 years and the travelling does take its toll. But I love representing my country and I’ve been fortunate enough to have a good relationship with Graham Arnold, who has taken over the national team.
“We sat down and had a very honest talk, both spoke about what we wanted. And my wife told me I’d be crazy if I was to walk away from it now. Especially starting this new adventure here at Hibs, it has given me a fresh look at football and a fresh start. I’m still very willing to work hard and very, very willing to learn.”
Milligan has an idea of what to expect from Scottish football after following the fortunes of his countrymen Mark Viduka and Craig Moore during their time with Celtic and Rangers respectively. More recently, he has seen Ryan Edwards, Ben Garuccio and Olly Bozanic sign for Hearts and Jamie Maclaren move to Hibs on loan, while Celtic currently have Tom Rogic and Daniel Arzani.
“I have seen quite a bit of Scottish football,” he said. “I grew up watching quite a bit of the Scottish league watching Craig Moore and Viduka. In the last couple of months, with so many Australians here at the minute there has been a lot of interest around the league and I’ve not been immune from that.”
Milligan, renowned as an imposing defensive-minded midfielder, believes he is well equipped for the demands of the Scottish Premiership. “Over the years I’ve mostly played as a six although I get moved around a little bit,” he said. “But the way I was brought up and the age and the way I play, positionally and structurally it looks to be a fit for me. I like to sit in front of that back four and with the way Hibs play, that will be a smooth transition.”
Milligan is well aware that he plays a similar position to the one Hibs manager Neil Lennon specialised in during his playing days with Leicester City and Celtic. “I saw him play and I don’t think there are many who compared to him, in terms of what he was able to do,” said the Aussie. “But what he’s brought here, and the way he’s got the boys playing, especially at home, that is something I could definitely see myself fitting into.”
Milligan is relishing the opportunity to work under Lennon, a man who demands high standards. “It was definitely one of the reasons that I wanted to come here, that competitive edge he has,” said Milligan. “I’m not as young as I used to be but I still want to learn, still like a challenge. I thought I could learn here, that this was a place where I could face a new challenge.
“I know here that, if I work hard and keep my standards up, I’ll get a chance to play. That was very appealing to me. I didn’t want to go somewhere and be sitting watching football all the time. I need to be continually tested. The gaffer here will do that, and this league will do that.”