George Craig: Hibs internationalists show it is quality over quantity

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The imminent arrival of Dutch defender Miquel Nelom means Neil Lennon’s Hibs squad now boasts an unprecedented 12 full internationalists.

The Easter Road outfit have cast their net far and wide, those players pulling on the colours of no fewer than ten different nations, ranging from Australia to the United States, from Holland to Hungary.

George Craig with Hibs chief executive Leeann Dempster

George Craig with Hibs chief executive Leeann Dempster

Nelom has been snapped up as a free agent having played close on 200 games for Excelsior, Feyenoord and Sparta Rotterdam, winning two caps against Indonesia and China and playing in the Champions League against Manchester City last season, a CV which had brought the 27-year-old to the attention of English Championship clubs Birmingham, Sheffield Wednesday and Bolton Wanders in recent months.

Nelom underwent a medical at the Capital club’s East Mains training centre on Monday and as a left-back he will be seen as competition for Hibs’ longest serving player Lewis Stevenson, who has been virtually unchallenged in that position in clocking up more than 400 appearances in a green-and-white shirt.

And in Hibs’ own “League of Nations”, as Lennon’s ninth signing of the summer, he joins players who have represented Israel, Hungary, Australia, Nigeria, Lithuania, the Republic of Ireland, the United States, Ghana and, of course, Scotland.

Having such an array of international talent is, however, more of a coincidence than design although George Craig, Hibs’ head of football operations, insisted it showed the Capital club’s drive for quality over quantity with Lennon still operating with a tight squad of 20 outfield players plus four goalkeepers, Marciano’s lengthy recovery from a close season finger operation prompting the signing on loan of Hungarian Adam Bogdan from Liverpool.

Craig also revealed capturing players such as Nelom, veteran Australian midfielder Mark Milligan, Ireland’s Daryl Horgan and American Emerson Hyndman, on loan from Bournemouth, was the result of Hibs’ never-ending quest to unearth fresh talent.

“Having 12 full internationalists isn’t bad, is it?” he said. “But I would be lying to say it was a particular strategy.

“If you were to pass the room next to mine at East Mains it looks a bit like a sweat shop with all these guys hunched over laptops. But that’s them scanning every league, looking to see who is available, who is out of contract and who is worth putting in front of the manager.”

Unsurprisingly, Lennon has exacting standards given his record at Celtic, where one-time Hibs scout John Park brought the likes of Virgil Van Dyjk, Victor Wanyama and Fraser Foster to his attention.

Like most other Scottish clubs, Hibs can’t match the spending power of the Glasgow outfit but, said Craig, it doesn’t stop them looking to unearth those hidden gems.

He said: “It’s nice when you find someone who has a track record of having played for their country at some point – and all of these guys aren’t current internationalists – although a good few are.

“And it’s an indication of how we are looking to recruit quality over quantity.”

Hib’s summer recruitment campaign has been something of a studied affair, supporters fretting early on at the apparent lack of activity as they saw the key midfield partnership of John McGinn and Dylan McGeouch depart for Aston Villa and Sunderland respectively, while winger Brandon Barker returned to Manchester City on the expiry of his loan deal.

Strikers Flo Kamberi and Jamie Maclaren also headed for the exit door only to return, the Swiss hitman on a three-year deal and his fellow Australian frontman on a season-long loan from German outfit Darmstadt. Stevie Mallan, Horgan, Hyndman, Bogdan, Milligan, Ghana cap Thomas Agyepong – again on loan from Manchester City – and now Nelom are in place, although Lennon still feels his new-look side remain “a work in progress”, that process having been hampered in recent weeks by injuries to Darren McGregor, Marvin Bartley and Kamberi in addition to Marciano’s longer term absence.

Arguing that “any squad would be weakened” by such losses, Craig also said that a balance also needed to be struck in showing the club’s talented youngsters that there was a pathway to first team football.

In the absence of McGregor, Ryan Porteous has been a stand-out figure in central defence, while his fellow Scotland Under-21 cap Oli Shaw has also been a regular in Lennon’s matchday squad, the striker having already notched three goals.

Others such as Fraser Murray, Sean Mackie, Jamie Gullan and Lewis Allan have also been in and around Lennon’s squad, Craig adamant such involvement not only gives them encouragement but others even younger than them.

He said: “We don’t want hundreds of players, there’s no point in having an academy if there isn’t a pathway to the first team for the young lads.

“We’ve now got 20 outfield players with Ryan, Oli and Fraser included in that number, while there’s also Lewis, Sean and Jamie if needed.”