Scottish football has seen two fairly distinct versions of Henri Anier so far.
There was the exuberant one which scored nine goals for Motherwell as they finished second in the top flight two seasons ago. But there was also the beleaguered one that returned to these shores in January following a brief spell in Germany and toiled badly at Dundee United in the second half of last season.
Kenny Black, the former Motherwell assistant, worked with the Estonian forward at Fir Park and sees no reason why the 24-year-old can’t rediscover his form from 2013/14 during a season-long loan at Hibs.
“I rate Henri highly, so it’s a mystery to me why it didn’t work for him at United,” Black told the Evening News. “Sometimes players have spells like that at certain clubs though. It’s well documented that Dundee United have lost a lot of quality and are having some problems just now, so it possibly just wasn’t the right time for Henri to go there.
“The lack of confidence at United just now could have been a factor for Henri. If you don’t hit it off straight away at a new club sometimes you can get a bit exasperated. For whatever reason, [United manager] Jackie McNamara tended to prefer other strikers in the time Henri was there, but these things happen to all players at various points in their careers.”
Anier is still waiting to make his Hibs debut as he builds up his match fitness levels. Although a regular off the bench, the striker made only five starts for United in the second half of last season and was unable to generate any momentum. He has scored only one goal for his parent club, but Black, who watched from the Easter Road stand as Hibs beat Alloa 3-0 last weekend, believes that dropping down to Scotland’s second tier will allow him to repair any dented confidence.
“The fact he’s playing in the Championship should help him get his confidence back and get back on track,” said Black. “Dropping down a level, and having seen how many chances they create, I’d expect Henri do very well at Hibs. I spoke to him briefly on Saturday and he’s desperate to get involved as quickly as possible. Knowing the type of boy he is, I wouldn’t expect anything less from him.”
Anier arrived at Fir Park in summer 2013, aged 22, and swiftly helped Motherwell fans forget about his highly-regarded countryman Henrik Ojamaa. “We brought Henri in just after Ojamaa had left to go to Poland,” Black recalls. “Henrik had spoken very highly of him because he knew him from Estonia and they had both played in the national team. From day one, his attitude on the training field was exactly what you’re looking for in a player. He’s very keen to work as hard as he can and to improve his game. He conducts himself really well. He was always willing to listen to any advice you gave him.”
Black doesn’t necessarily expect Anier to finish top of the Championship scoring charts, but he believes his pace and movement in attack will help Hibs become a more dangerous team.
“He’ll bring a lot to the table for Hibs,” said Black. “He’s got good pace and he can run in behind defenders. I think that’s his main attribute. He’s at his best running on to balls in behind, where he can utilise his pace.
“He’s a decent finisher as well. I remember on the opening day of the season away to Hibs two years ago, he was faced with a one-on-one and he finished it really well to win the game for us. He’s not an out-and-out goalscorer who’ll get you 20 or 30-goals a season, but he’ll lead the line well and chip in with double figures.
“He’s a real workmanlike striker. He’ll do a lot of work to help his team-mates. He’ll go and put defences under pressure, he won’t just stand back and allow back fours to have comfortable possession of the ball. He knows when to go and press and I think the Hibs fans will appreciate him when they see him. His work ethic will rub off on the rest of the Hibs players. I can see him creating a few goals for his team-mates just by unsettling defenders.”
Although physically strong and always willing to take one for the team, Black says Anier shouldn’t be viewed as a battering ram. “He’s okay in the air but I wouldn’t describe him as a target man,” he continued. “He’ll admit himself he can sometimes be a little bit loose with balls played up to him. But he’s a strong lad and he’s quite comfortable taking the ball in and doesn’t mind the physical aspect of the game. He’ll take the hits and come back for more – he’s not one who’ll go into his shell if he’s having an indifferent game.
“As a midfielder, you want your strikers to stand up and be counted, and Henri will certainly do that. He’ll not be fazed at all if he’s asked to play the lone striker role – he did that a few times for us – we usually used him in a two at Motherwell. It looks like Hibs will be playing two up front most weeks and Henri will be absolutely fine with that. He’ll be a good foil for either James Keatings or Jason Cummings.”
Black and manager Stuart McCall had been looking forward to a second season of working with Anier before German side Erzgebirge Aue came in with an unexpected bid for the Estonian 15 months ago. The six-figure offer was too big for Motherwell to turn down but Black admits the departure of Anier – among others – played a part in the slow start to last season which ultimately led to the end of he and McCall’s successful reign at Fir Park.
“We certainly weren’t wanting to lose him, but with the money they were paying, it benefited everyone,” Black explained. “It came at a bad time for us because it was just at the start of pre-season. At Motherwell we were blessed to have Jamie Murphy, Ojamaa, Michael Higdon, John Sutton and Henri. They were all different types of strikers, but Henri was right up there with all of them in terms of ability. We were sorry to see him go. He was a very useful player for us.
“Jackie McNamara phoned Stuart to ask about him in January and, like myself, he said he would recommend Henri to any club. If Hibs get the Motherwell version of Henri Anier then I’m sure they’ll be very happy.”