The “will he, won’t he” may have lasted a bit longer than Hibs fans may have wished, but Flo Kamberi insisted there was never any question of him not returning to Easter Road.
A deal had already been put in place before the Swiss striker arrived in Edinburgh on loan to bring him back on a permanent basis if he impressed.
And, after nine goals in just 14 appearances in a green-and-white shirt as Neil Lennon’s side took the race for second place in the Premiership table down to the wire before being forced to settle for fourth, there was no doubt it was an agreement which the Hibs boss would be keen to enforce.
A sudden interest from Sunderland after former St Mirren manager Jack Ross took charge of the Black Cats caused a bit concern among supporters but, insisted Kamberi, it never threatened to derail his move from Grasshopper Zurich to the Capital on a three-year deal.
He revealed that he hadn’t given a switch to Wearside a second thought, Sunderland a big name but the prospect of League One football totally unattractive to the 23-year-old.
Professing to know nothing of the ¤2 million tag reportedly demanded of Sunderland by Grasshoppers rather than the “affordable” fee Hibs had put in place, Kamberi said: “It didn’t interest me.
“It was League One, even if it’s a big club I don’t want to play in a small league. I want to play in the first league and I had an opportunity to that here with Hibs, so it was clear to me that Sunderland was not an option.
“I wasn’t worried that Grasshopper would look for more money because there was already a deal in place with Hibs.”
Still under contract in Switzerland, Kamberi had the ultimate say, revealing that throughout the close-season Lennon was in constant touch and admitting that with the head coach committed to staying with Hibs having questioned his own future in the aftermath of that derby defeat by Hearts, the decision was an easy one for him to make.
He said: “It went to the last few days, but for me it was clear. I spoke to the gaffer and I knew he was staying so I was pleased to come back and work with him again, the club and my team-mates after our great season.
“I wanted to work with Neil Lennon because he makes me better every day. To be around my team-mates and this club makes me very happy. I asked him if he was going to stay and when he said ‘yes,’ I wanted to stay.
“He was calling me while I was on holiday in Dubai. We spoke a lot. I felt his trust every day last season and I want his trust now again and I will give my best in training and games and hopefully we will all be successful again.”
Kamberi conceded he’d find it difficult to say what would have happened had Lennon carried through with his short-lived threat to quit, but with everything settled he’s looking forward to building on his impressive first few months in Scottish football, adamant it can help him realise his dream of playing for Switzerland.
Already capped at under-21 level by his country, Kamberi has looked on enviously as his compatriots compete in this summer’s World Cup finals in Russia, a place in the last 16 at stake in tonight’s final group match against Costa Rica.
However, he is determined to be patient, saying: “For me it’s not just about money. It’s important to play as much as I can to win games and be in a good club with a good gaffer.
“At the moment it’s important to give a good performance in a high league and if I do that then the big money comes later.”
Kamberi makes no secret of his ultimate desire to play in England’s Premier League and he genuinely believes building on the stunning impact he had following his January transfer window arrival will provide that opportunity.
He said: “I believe I have a better chance to achieve that dream by playing in the top league with Hibs, it’s a great window for me. But I am not looking too far ahead. I just want to give my all for the club and if I do that then the opportunities should follow. Many English clubs look to the Scottish Premiership, so it’s up to me.
“It was a dream for me to make the national team for the World Cup, but I wasn’t called up and life goes on. I’m not upset, I just know that I nee to keep working to improve and hopefully when I score my goals and give good performances, one day I will be in the national team.
“That’s another reason why I didn’t want to go to Sunderland. If you are playing for a big club in a smaller league nobody cares about you for the national team. They are playing in England’s third league. Hibs is the perfect step for me to play in the first league, in a hard league and show myself.”
Kamberi also admitted he’s revelled in playing the electric atmosphere of the Premiership’s biggest matches, describing Hibs’ 5-5 draw with Rangers on the final day of the season as the craziest experience of his career.
He said: “The atmosphere in that 5-5 draw made a big impression on me, I wish every game was like this, a Champions League final. I was also at Ibrox in front of 50,000 when we played very well. That was great.
“In Switzerland we have maybe 3000 or 4000 fans and they are not loud, they are still and quiet. You can hear them talking to each other. But in Scotland and England the fans are going crazy and that’s what I like. I like to have this pressure from the crowd, it gives me an incentive to give more on the pitch.”
Kamberi acknowledged his goal-scoring streak for Hibs will bring a pressure of expectation but, he insisted, he’s not going to start making predictions as to how many he’d hope to get in the coming season.
So much so, he revealed, he declined to take the No.9 jersey which was waiting for him as he returned to training with his team-mates at East Mains, opting instead for the No.22 he’d worn in the past few months.
He said: “I told them, ‘no, I want to keep my 22’. They were surprised, but the fact I scored lot of goals last season doesn’t mean I’m a big star suddenly. It doesn’t mean anything yet.
“I want to keep the 22 because I had a great season wearing it and it’s the birthday of my father Pashk, March 22. It was a great experience with this number – hopefully it’s my lucky number.”
Nine goals in 14 games for a player who pitched up in Edinburgh as an unknown only to become a fans’ idol may not be a bad record, but Kamberi was adamant it wasn’t good enough.
He said: “I did some good things, but it’s not enough. I have to improve and give more if I want to go higher. I have to work on many things, but I have this confidence and mentality to work on my game and get better every day.”