Farid EL Alagui is saddened by the way his Hibs career has panned out, but the fit-again striker insists the injury problems that have afflicted him over the past 18 months or so won’t force him into early retirement.
After having his first campaign at Easter Road wrecked by an Achilles problem, the 31-year-old has spent most of this season sidelined, predominantly by ongoing pain caused following the removal last summer of metal screws which had been inserted when he underwent his original operation in September 2014. Having endured a mentally-testing period in which he occasionally questioned if he’d ever be back scoring goals, El Alagui now proclaims to be pain-free and fully-fit for the first time in more than a year and a half.
The only problem for the French-born Moroccan, however, is that he has only two months left of a two-year contract at Easter Road and is struggling to command the game time required to remind everyone what he is capable of. “It’s been a bit of a nightmare ever since I got my first injury at the start of last season,” he told the Evening News. “It’s a shame because I was really happy at the start. Everything was going fine, I was having a good feeling about the club and I was feeling really comfortable here. Unfortunately the injuries have set me back and made it hard for me. There’s not much you can do except try to get back as quickly as possible.
“I don’t know at the moment what will happen at the end of the season [regarding a contract]. I’ve just been concentrating on getting myself fit and playing. At the end of the season, we will have a chat and see how it is.”
Regardless of whether or not he is still at Hibs next season, El Alagui insists hanging up his boots is not on the cards. Despite recently turning 31 and having started only 24 matches since leaving Falkirk almost four years ago, he still feels he can be an effective centre-forward. If anything, he says, he will be even better as a result of the added mental perspective his injury problems have given him.
“If you’d asked me a year ago or maybe a few months ago, I would probably not have been able to answer the question of whether I still felt I could play on for a long time,” he said. “There was a point where I didn’t know if I’d ever be 100 per cent again. That is normal when you have pain as long as I did. But the way I’ve been feeling in the last few months, I’m definitely positive that I’ve got a few years left. I feel really good and don’t have any issues any more with my body. The last time that was the case was over 18 months ago.
“I definitely feel I can still be the same striker I was before my injuries. The injuries have not changed who I am. If anything, they have given me more strength, especially mentally. It’s made me realise how lucky I am to be fit and playing football. I believe I am stronger now and even more hungry to do well.”
If El Alagui’s Hibs career is coming to an end, he wants to sign off in style by helping them secure promotion to the Premiership. A couple of recent substitute appearances against Morton and Dumbarton, as well as a goal in the latter match, have boosted his morale and whetted his appetite for more action. With Hibs facing a run of nine games in April, he is hopeful that he will be given a decent chance to make an impact.
“I’m fully fit now,” he said. “It will be up to the manager when I get my chance, so I just have to make sure I’m ready when he needs me. I’m happy with where I am fitness-wise just now. I don’t feel any pain at all, which was not the case before. I’ve been fit and pain-free since I came back at the end of January. At first I was feeling a bit of pain in training but I did a good workout in January to strengthen my body and since then I’ve been feeling much better.
“Since I came back, I’ve been pushing myself to play. I want to play. Obviously I understand the situation – I’ve not played for such a long time and the boys who have been playing have been doing well. I know I can’t demand to play, but we have lots of games in a short period of time in April, so we will see what happens then. The manager has rotated before so I’m pretty sure he will need everybody in the squad to get us through April. All I can do is make sure I’m fit and ready.”