Exclusive: Hibs new boy's freedom of movement key to instant impact
A game changer. Tactically, as well as technically. A schemer whose freedom of movement makes him difficult for defenders – and pundits – to pin down.
Talking about the impact of Emiliano Marcondes on this Hibs team, Nick Montgomery laughs while mischievously suggesting that the Danish playmaker has forced the gaffer to abandon his long-held devotion to a straight-up 4-4-2. The straight-talking Yorkshireman gets a kick out of the “debates” surrounding a formation that can be reshaped a dozen different ways.
But there’s no denying that Marcondes, described by Monty as one of those in-between players who loves dropping off the front line to seek out possession, occupy danger zones or simply draw a defender into no-man’s land, has something a little bit different to anyone else on the books. Presented with a player of his profile and pedigree, nobody at Hibs is inflexible enough to insist that he plays like an old-fashioned number nine, just to maintain some neat lines on the tactics board.
“He’s got freedom, for sure, one hundred per cent,” said Montgomery. “With the options we’ve had this season, it’s been really difficult. But I have full belief in the way we play, the process.
“Emi comes in and gives us a different dimension. He’s more of a natural false nine or a 10, more than what we’ve had anyway.
“That’s great when we’ve got bags of pace in behind. You saw against Kilmarnock at the weekend, there were a couple of balls where, maybe on a better pitch, we get in behind them.
“The boys know when he gets the ball, he can see a pass, so they’re going to make the moves. You know that Emi is going to find you. His game intelligence is very high. I knew that before bringing him in, and you can see it just by watching him in the game. His leadership on the pitch is another great quality.
“But he’s a player who is going to attract attention from defenders. He’s smart enough to move them out of the way and allow others to move into that space.
“He had two chances to score at the weekend and the Kilmarnock keeper has stopped him twice. I thought he deserved a goal.
“But that was his first 90 minutes in eight months. That tells you a lot about a person.”
In Saturday’s 2-2 draw with Kilmarnock at Rugby Park, on-loan Bournemouth player Marcondes – making his first start - repeatedly pulled the home central defenders all out of shape; the Killie back four looked like a row of broken teeth, at times. It took until the introduction of another new signing, Myziane Maolida, before Hibs had a winger capable of identifying and exploiting those gaps.
As a group, Monty’s men showed great character to come from two goals down to secure a 2-2 draw. And Marcondes, with barely any proper football under his belt in season 2023-24, was one of the warriors who went to the well. Even refusing an offer to save his legs, which must have been like rubber long before full-time.
“Playing on that pitch is not easy for anybody,” said Montgomery. “But I asked him at half-time and his reply was: ‘I’m good, I’ll play the full 90.’ For me, that showed the character I knew he had, the reason I worked so hard to convince him to come here.
“With Emiliano, I don’t think I need to talk about his ability. But he’s also a great guy – and a real leader who came here for the challenge. When I spoke to him, he knew exactly where we were, that we were in a difficult moment, squad-wise. And that’s one of the biggest reasons he wanted to come, for the challenge of helping Hibs reach our potential.”
Montgomery will be watching three of his players involved – to some degree or another – in international football tomorrow, with Martin Boyle and Lewis Miller both in the Socceroos squad taking on South Korea in the Asian Cup quarterfinals at 3.30 pm UK time. Rocky Bushiri, yet to feature in the Africa Cup of Nations tournament for the Democratic Republic of Congo, will at least be part of the group for their quarterfinal against Guinea, which is an 8 pm KO, UK time. Without wishing ill on either the Socceroos or DRC, few at Hibs would be heartbroken if all three spent Saturday on flights back to Edinburgh.
Montgomery said: “We’ve been through a real difficult period in terms of squad depth. But I’ve got full belief in what we’re doing, and full buy-in from everybody at the club.
“For me, the aim was to improve the squad in this window. I think we’ve done that. When we get the boys back from international duty, I’ll have a selection headache I haven’t had all season. It’s something I’m looking forward to.”