Hibs fans are getting used to these slow-burning, angst-ridden summer transfer windows, but there is a pattern emerging whereby they generally end up getting what they want.
A year ago the close-season narrative centred largely around the demoralising loss of popular Scottish Cup winners like James Keatings, Jason Cummings and Fraser Fyvie, a nervy waiting game before Efe Ambrose and Ofir Marciano – successful loanees from the previous season – were secured on permanent contracts in early and late June respectively, and then, to cap it all off, the arrival of Anthony Stokes amid a wave of hype at the start of August after several months of pre-signing speculation.
Although not yet a fully-fledged internationalist like Ambrose, Marciano or Stokes, Florian Kamberi’s much-heralded recruitment on a three-year contract this week can be bracketed among Hibs’ most significant bits of business since they began their post-relegation fightback four years ago. For several reasons, the purchase of the popular 23-year-old Swiss striker has galvanised a support who were beginning to fret over the lack of a single signing almost four weeks since last season came to a conclusion. The sight of rivals like Rangers and Hearts replenishing their squads with a steady flow of new faces over the past month has served to exacerbate the sense, among sections of their fanbase, that Hibs were in danger of being left behind this summer. Kamberi’s arrival has seen mild early-June panic give way to optimism that the break-up of last season’s impressive Hibs team may have been signalled prematurely. Dylan McGeouch is out of contract and in demand from other clubs, while Brandon Barker, Jamie Maclaren and Scott Allan are all due to start pre-season with their parent clubs, but the hope among supporters is that the return of Kamberi is the start of a steady flow of positive summer activity.
Unlike in January, when he was a low-key arrival after a trial period at East Mains, Kamberi returns to Hibs this summer as a statement signing. Of last season’s loanees, the Swiss is arguably the one supporters wanted to retain most. Nine goals in 14 appearances speaks for itself. Kamberi’s impact was as crucial as any Hibs player in the team’s strong finish to the season as they lost only once – away to Hearts in the penultimate game – with him in the team. Swashbuckling, physical, hard-working and clinical, Kamberi – alongside Maclaren–- brought a new dimension to a Hibs attack which seemed to lack cohesion in the first half of the campaign. He swiftly earned the adulation of a support who craved a new goal-scoring hero after seeing popular hitmen like Cummings, Stokes and Dominique Malonga leave a void in their hearts.
His unlikely emergence as one of the standout strikers in the Scottish Premiership led to other clubs taking note, but Hibs’ pre-agreed transfer fee with Grasshoppers would prove crucial in the final reckoning. Even though they had that advantage over other clubs, the fact Hibs, who have been accused of penny-pinching in the past, paid the fee and effectively beat clubs of Sunderland’s stature to his signing reflects well in the eyes of supporters and will also have given manager Neil Lennon some close-season reassurance after he raised concerns following last month’s defeat by Hearts about the size of the task potentially facing him this summer if all of his out-of-contract big guns were to move on. It remains to be seen if any of McGeouch, Barker, Maclaren or Allan will join Kamberi in returning, but even if they don’t, Hibs have repeatedly shown that they can discover and attract good players to Easter Road.
The arrival of Kamberi means Hibs can now look forward to their Europa League opener next month in the knowledge that they have a striker of substance to lead their attack. Although the squad is in clear need of a few reinforcements before the Premiership campaign kicks off in August, Lennon will feel that, regardless of whether there are any further signings in the coming weeks, he has enough good players currently at his disposal to make a decent fist of the European campaign. While progress on that front would be a desirable bonus, Hibs’ main priority is to ensure they are adequately equipped for the league campaign. With that in mind, they are right to be selective about their recruitment as opposed to taking a scattergun approach and merely filling squad berths for the sake of it with players who may be available presently but don’t necessarily tick all the boxes. Hibs have been down that road before and it led them into the Championship. The club have repeatedly shown since then that they have learned lessons. Kamberi represents a typically shrewd signing by the current regime at Hibs: bold, inspiring and likely to prove fruitful.