Farid El Alagui is on the lookout for a new challenge after a “mixed” two years with Hibs.
The 30-year-old Moroccan managed only 21 appearances in an injury-disrupted stint at Easter Road. Despite his fitness problems, he insists he has no regrets about agreeing to become the second signing of Alan Stubbs’ tenure two years ago.
“I’ve got mixed feelings when I look back on my time at Hibs,” he said, in conversation with the Evening News in a North Edinburgh coffee shop. “I was happy to be there at this stage in my career and it was a great place to be under Alan Stubbs but the big frustration was that I was not able to produce for a long period of time because of injuries. I feel like I did well when I played. I was feeling fine when I was fit and involved, especially when I first signed. I regret my injuries but I definitely don’t regret going to Hibs. I just feel, obviously, that I could have done so much more.
“Even though I had a bad time with injuries, the fans have always been great with me. Apart from the injuries, I’ve got some great memories from my time at Hibs. The club will always have a special place in my heart.”
El Alagui had scored four goals in his first five appearances for Hibs before a serious Achilles injury, sustained away to Alloa Athletic, effectively killed his chances of being a success at Easter Road. He eventually returned to action later that season, and scored in a 2-0 victory over Hearts, but he wasn’t playing pain-free. Surgery last summer to remove screws from his Achilles area, which he thought would cause minimal disruption, then had a debilitating effect on him for the first half of the season just finished. By the time he eventually rediscovered his fitness, his body remained prone to irritating niggles.
“The big one at the start, the Achilles, was the worst,” the striker said. “In the second season, I had to remove the screws from the operation the previous season and I thought it would only take a couple of weeks to get fit again, but it took a lot longer for me to start jogging because it was painful.
“I eventually started to feel really good from January onwards – that was as good as I’d felt for a long time. I was training a lot but I just couldn’t get a rhythm of games. It was on-off, on-off, so when I did come on I kept getting niggles. I started against Livingston in April then felt something in my hamstring which wasn’t related to my Achilles problem. We took a little risk to come back for the Scottish Cup semi-final against Dundee United a couple of weeks after that, but it unfortunately it didn’t work. I felt my hamstring again and that turned out to be my last game for Hibs.”
El Alagui left with seven Hibs goals to his name. Two of them came against Hearts. “The highlight of my time at Hibs was the derbies, especially the one where I scored and we won,” he said. “I scored a good goal against them at the start but we lost. That was when I was feeling good, before the injuries. When you sign for Hibs, you get told all about the derbies and they are games you look forward to. I really enjoyed the derbies.”
El Alagui is unable to cite the Scottish Cup triumph last month as the highlight because, although he enjoyed every moment of the weekend, he didn’t feel like he had contributed to the history-making match against Rangers. “I’m not going to lie – it was hard to enjoy it as much as if you had played a part in it,” he said. “I enjoyed everything about the weekend. The open-top bus parade on Sunday was incredible – I was shocked by the scenes. But inside I was just wishing I could have been involved.
“I was back training the day before the final, but I knew I wouldn’t be playing because I wasn’t match fit. I travelled with the team and was part of the whole occasion. I was in with the group and sat in the dugout next to the rest of the subs. There was me, Sam Stanton, Danny Handling and Kevin Thomson sat in our suits, and I just wanted to get changed into my kit. When Dave [Gray] scored the winner, I can hardly remember what I did. I was just jumping around. It was incredible.”
Although El Alagui’s time at Easter Road is now over, he will remain part of the Hibs family – literally. The Bordeaux-born Moroccan met his partner Jenna just after he signed for Hibs and they are due to welcome their first child into the world next month. “After a game, just after I’d signed for Hibs, I went for food with a friend and I met Jenna in the restaurant,” he said. “It was random, but her and her family are proper Hibs fans.
“I had them sitting just behind the dugout with the rest of the players’ families at the final, so I was really happy that they got to see Hibs win the Scottish Cup at a time when I was involved with the club. They got to have their photo taken with the cup – great memories for them and myself.”
Although El Alagui has no idea where his next move will take him, he is hopeful of remaining in Scotland, a country he first fell in love with when joining Falkirk five years ago. After a year-and-a-half in London with Brentford, he returned north to join Dundee United on loan in early 2014 before signing for Hibs. With his new arrival looming, he would prefer to stay put.
“I will have a baby who is half Scottish, half Moroccan,” he laughed. “Even when I first came to Scotland with Falkirk, I felt really comfortable in this country. I didn’t expect to feel so good here. The plan is to stay here for longer. I love the country, I love the people and, of course, my girlfriend is from here. I’ve not got anything on the table at the moment, but I will sit down with my agent in the next few weeks and see what we’re going to do next. Ideally, I would like to stay in Scotland, but I would have no problem going abroad. I don’t know where I will be next.”
El Alagui looks a picture of health and declares himself in prime condition fitness-wise. He knows that wherever his next move takes him, it is critical that he enjoys an injury-free summer as he strives to get his career back on track. “I need a good pre-season and a good run of games from the start to be fit for the long term,” he said. “Apart from the niggles at the end of the season, every time I played I felt sharp and feel like I contributed at Hibs. The good thing is that I managed to get fit just before the final, so I’m ready to start pre-season as soon as I get a new club. I’ve been out running and keeping in touch with the Hibs fitness coach, who has given me a programme, so I’m feeling 100 per cent. That will mean I can do pre-season like every other player. I’ve not played much recently so it is no good for me to take a month off over summer. I need to keep going. I’m a fit person naturally so I enjoy doing all the work.”