It’s fair to say that Hibs striker Farid El Alagui wouldn’t be where he is today without tomorrow’s opponents Falkirk.
Plucked from the obscurity of the fourth tier of French football, the unknown player rapidly made a name of himself, becoming a firm favourite of the Bairns’ fans, scoring a remarkable 27 goals in just 43 matches in his first season in Scotland.
Now he’s quickly winning over the Easter Road support, having notched two goals in his first three appearances for Alan Stubbs’ side, a record he’s desperate to maintain when he faces Falkirk for the first time.
However, if he does so, don’t expect any wild celebrations from the 29-year-old, as he will never forget the debt of gratitude he owes Falkirk.
Revealing the secret behind his move to Scotland in the summer of 2011, El Alagui said: “I was on holiday when an agent phoned me one Sunday morning to tell me another striker he’d told Falkirk would be arriving on trial had let him down at the last minute. He asked me if I wanted to take his place.
“I didn’t even know where Falkirk was, what kind of club it was other than they’d been in the SPL. I had no idea of what I was going to see, but I didn’t even think about it. I made a snap decision and said ‘yes’.
“I was on a plane that night and training at Stirling University the next morning.”
And the Bordeaux-born player disclosed a little piece of subterfuge was employed once he arrived in Scotland. He said: “Steven Pressley, the Falkirk manager at the time, was expecting a player called ‘Aruero’ so the agent told me to say nothing, just to see how things would go.
“So I was called Aruero all week – that name was even on my water bottle. The trial went very well and it was only when they wanted me to sign that I had to produce my passport.
“My English wasn’t very good at that time, but I think the main thing was he liked me as a player and the focus was on me signing. They had a very young side at the time, but one with a lot of quality with players and I think Steven wanted a bit of experience.”
El Alagui spent that week living in student accommodation and on his second day he was stunned to find himself meeting then Manchester United boss Sir Alex Ferguson.
“Sir Alex was up visiting the university, but it was like ‘wow’, incredible,” he continued.
“I’d taken a bit of a chance, but I had a fantastic season with Falkirk. I’d arrived not expecting too much, but everything just clicked with the manager, my new team-mates, all the people around the club. The way it all happened it was as if someone was trying to tell me something.”
Having signed a one-year deal with the Bairns, El Alagui made the move south to Brentford in 2012, only to suffer a serious knee injury within months. He was unable to command a starting place, his frustration leading to him joining Dundee United on loan earlier this year.
But now, having agreed a two-year deal with Stubbs, El Alagui is again enjoying his football, undoubtedly helped by goals in successive matches against Livingston and Hearts, even if he admits his stunning derby day strike means little to him given the final 2-1 defeat.
He said: “After my injury I didn’t play much – I felt as if I was out of things. I wanted to enjoy my football again and that is what I am doing here at Hibs.
“I don’t think I could ask for too much more so far, although every striker always thinks he could have scored more. But that’s the life we lead – one minute you are down because you have missed a chance, the next you are on top of the world because you’ve scored.
“It was a nice goal against Hearts, but it means nothing because we lost. I’d rather have scored with the header I had five minutes earlier because it would have give us a bit more time to perhaps take something from the game.
“Now it is important for us to get a win tomorrow. It’s going to be a strange situation for me, but also a special occasion because I’ve never played against a former club [competitively] before.
“But after the derby we have to bounce back straight away and the best way to do that is with three points, no matter who the opposition is going to be.
“The derby was very demanding. I was surprised just how much the occasion takes out of you, so it’s been important to make sure you do everything right in to recover from it all.
“Obviously as a striker I want to score again tomorrow. If I get a chance I will do everything I can to put the ball into the net. But out of respect to Falkirk for the chance they gave me – I was a total unknown when I came over here – I won’t celebrate.
“If it wasn’t for Falkirk I wouldn’t be here today playing for Hibs, so if I’m lucky enough to score I’m sure our fans will understand why I won’t be going overboard, although I will enjoy the moment.”