Hibs' Kyle McClelland eyeing first-team chance as former Rangers kid hails the Ibrox star who helped his game

By the time you read this, Kyle McClelland will have completed his initiation song in front of his new team-mates, a daunting task for most players joining new clubs.

Sunday, 3rd July 2022, 10:30 pm

The defender, who joined Hibs as a free agent after leaving Rangers, joined the Easter Road side at their summer training camp in Portugal and impressed in the two pre-season friendly wins against Hartlepool United and Burton Albion, playing with a confidence that belied his years.

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Kyle McClelland joins Hibs as Easter Road side snaps up former Rangers kid

Getting up to sing in front of new team-mates, however, is a very different story.

"I’m quite nervous about it. I’ll keep it for the staff and the boys. I think it’ll be one of the ones they don’t expect,” he confided, ahead of the big night.

"I did it in Europe when I was away with Rangers in Lyon and I’ve done it with Northern Ireland too so it’s not new to me but at the same time it’s always nerve-racking in front of new boys.”

If his singing can match his performances in defence for Hibs he will likely have had no issues impressing his new colleagues. McClelland took the decision to turn down an extended stay at Rangers in order to pursue first-team football and feels he has a better chance of that in the Capital.

“As soon as the Hibs manager said they want youth players coming right the way through, I decided to come here,” McClelland explains.

Kyle McClelland is keen to make an impression at Easter Road. Picture: Hibernian FC

"It’s a great chance for me, I’m only 20 years old and to try and push to get into that first team, I think there’s a great opportunity at Hibs.”

It wasn’t an easy decision for McClelland to leave Rangers, having been at the club since he was seven years old, but with Hibs dangling a three-year contract and a clearer pathway to senior football, his mind was made up.

"You do everything you can in training but it’s hard to try and play with Rangers,” he admits.

"I did my best there but when Hibs came in with a three-year deal, I spoke to Rangers and knew what the plan was. I think it was maybe a year extension and to go out on loan then come back and see how I got on.

McClelland in action for Rangers B against Celtic B in last season's Lowland League

"But I thought I’d make the call, step my game up again and try to get first-team football so I did that. It was a no-brainer, I didn’t really want to go out on loan for a year at Rangers so I decided to come here and I’m delighted.”

Rangers gave gametime to a clutch of academy players last season with the likes of Adam Devine, Leon King, Alex Lowry, Ross McCausland, Robby McCrorie, Cole McKinnon, and Tony Weston all making first-team appearances. The pathway to the first team is not impassable, but McClelland felt it more straightforward at Easter Road.

“Rangers is a massive club but as a young player you can get lost in that. It can be hard because sometimes you don’t know if you’re training first team,” he adds.

"Sometimes you get like that and it can be difficult, but that’s in the past now and I’m here to focus on the next three years.

McClelland cites Connor Goldson as a major influence

"This is a fresh start. I had 13 years at Rangers and it was enjoyable. But it’s a new challenge here and I’m looking forward to it.

"It was easy to make the decision but at the same time it was difficult. I’d been there since I was seven years old. It was 13 years.

"Of course for anyone it’s hard to leave a place you’ve been at for so long but at the same point there’s some enjoyment and some not.

“Trying to get through into that first team was quite a struggle for me; boys like Leon were in front of me and I wish them all the best.”

McClelland sought the advice of former Ibrox colleagues Joao Balde and Stevie Bradley, who are now at Hibs, and was further convinced that his future lay at the other end of the M8.

"I played with Joao and Stevie at Rangers, Joao for two years and Stevie for about four. I spoke to them and asked what their thoughts were and they gave them all the praise so I thought it was a great place to come.”

Coincidentally, given he is following a not-too-dissimilar route to him, Ross McCrorie was a confidant while both were at Ibrox and the current Aberdeen defender helped McClelland with the step up to the first-team pool. The Hibs new boy is keen to follow in his former colleague’s footsteps.

"Ross is actually from the same area as me and I spoke to him quite a lot. At the time he was in the first team and I was moving up to that step, and he helped me right the way through.

“He’s played loads of games for Aberdeen, I think he started the majority of them last year.

"Hopefully that’s something I can try and work myself towards and get a decent career out of it.”

As well as McCrorie, Connor Goldson can be credited with helping to bring on the young McClelland.

"I trained with Connor a lot. I had a good four months training with the first team when Steven Gerrard was manager and I trained with him,” the centre-back said.

"I learned a lot from him – he’s commanding so his leadership, his professionalism. That’s what I learned from big Connor.”

It can be tough for young players to force their way to the top but McClelland is confident he has made the right choice.

"My inspiration has always been to be a footballer. The majority of footballers’ stories aren’t always straight,” he admits.

"But I just want to come here and do my best for myself and my family and push on.”