Comment: Keeping Flo Kamberi fire burning is critical to Hibs’ hopes of having strong season
News that FC Basel have dropped their interest in Florian Kamberi comes as a welcome boost to Hibs fans amid an exasperating start to the season for their team.
The fact the Swiss club will not be coming in with an offer for the in-form striker also ensures that the decision-makers at Easter Road are not, barring any late change of circumstance, going to be faced with what would have been a major dilemma. In short, selling their main source of goals at a time when the team is not functioning particularly well would not have been well received by the support.
After a rocky campaign last year, Kamberi has swiftly set about re-establishing himself as one of Hibs’ main men this summer. There were times last term when he was either in the doghouse (under Neil Lennon) or on the left wing (under Paul Heckingbottom), but the Swiss hitman’s present importance to his club cannot he overstated.
Five goals – all impressively taken, it must be said – in seven games is an indicator that Kamberi is getting back to the level of form he showed while on loan at Hibs from Grasshopper Zürich in the second half of the season before last. Crucially, he is now playing with a mixture of hunger and confidence and is standing out as the team’s main attacking threat. Now that it looks like he will be staying at Easter Road after a summer of speculation about his future, it is imperative that Heckingbottom ensures the striker’s early-season fire remains fuelled.
If he can score nine goals in a four-month loan stint (as he did at the start of his time with Hibs) and if he can score 13 goals in a season in which he was widely deemed to have been well short of his best (as was the case last term), it is reasonable to suspect that, if he is in the right frame of mind and playing with decent supply (namely from Scott Allan), he is capable of hitting in excess of 20 goals this season.
With 27 goals in total during 19 months with Hibs, Kamberi has already joined an illustrious and exclusive group of players to have scored more than 25 for the club since the turn of the Millennium. Jason Cummings, Leigh Griffiths, Anthony Stokes, Steven Fletcher, Derek Riordan, and Garry O’Connor are the others.
If he is at Easter Road for the duration of the campaign and maintains the focus he has shown this summer, Kamberi should be looking at getting close to his half-century for Hibs by the time the season is out. While it is clearly a good thing to have such a prolific striker who is driven by a desire to keep improving and one day play for Switzerland, the other side of the coin is that Heckingbottom’s team are now so heavily reliant on the 24-year-old striker for quality at the sharp end that, as things stand, they would face being left in a bit of bother if he were to fall victim to injury or lose his form for a sustained period.
During his initial loan stint, Hibs also had Jamie Maclaren, Martin Boyle and a high-calibre midfield to ensure Kamberi was only one key player within a formidable unit as Lennon’s team soared towards Europe. Even in the early months of last season, after the midfield had been broken up, they still had Boyle and Maclaren to take some of the attacking strain. In the second half of last season, with Kamberi struggling to hit the heights, Marc McNulty came in and took over as Hibs’ main striker.
At this moment in time, however, Kamberi has reclaimed centre stage and appears absolutely critical to Hibs’ hopes of having a decent season. Beyond the Swiss, they have only Christian Doidge, who will chip in with goals but lacks the dynamism and explosiveness Hibs fans like to see in their strikers, and Oli Shaw, a homegrown forward who is capable of chipping in with goals but hasn’t started a game since February. Kamberi is the clear A-Lister within this trio.
Indeed, on current form, he and midfield playmaker Allan are Hibs’ most influential attack-minded players by some distance, certainly in the absence of Boyle, who is of similar calibre and importance when fit.
Given this scenario, and considering the negative mood threatening to engulf the club after their unconvincing start to the season, it would be a surprise if Hibs didn’t add at least one more striker to enhance their options – and potentially allow the frustrated Shaw to go on loan – before the transfer window closes on Monday evening.
On the basis that Kamberi will be staying for now, one of Heckingbottom’s many important tasks in the coming weeks will be to ensure he keeps his main striker focused and in the goal-scoring zone. The Swiss lost his confidence and, perhaps subconsciously, his motivation when he was being publicly criticised by Lennon last winter and then looked further diminished when deployed on the left flank in the closing months of last season.
He is clearly a player who thrives when he has the trust and backing of his manager to lead the attack, as appears to be the case at present. With Allan behind him, supplying the ammo, there is no obvious reason why Kamberi shouldn’t be able to maintain his current hot streak. As an ambitious young man with aspirations of progressing in his peak years, Hibs could well be about to see the very best of the striker in the coming months. Given the team’s well-documented shortcomings in midfield and defence, keeping Kamberi in a positive vibe currently represents Hibs’ best hope of enjoying a fruitful campaign.