Ofir Marciano feels rejuvenated by his opening weeks at Hibs after spending most of last season in cold storage in Belgium.
The 26-year-old Israeli savoured his first domestic appearance for a full 12 months when he made his Easter Road debut against Morton a fortnight ago after finalising a season-long loan. It marked the end of a mentally-testing year for the naturally positive goalkeeper after his eagerly-awaited move to Europe last summer turned sour within weeks.
Having previously spent his entire career with Ashdod in his homeland and seemingly established himself as his national team’s No.1, the goalkeeper was keen to spread his wings and further his career overseas. However, Marciano’s season-long loan to Belgian top-flight club Mouscron-Peruwelz didn’t go to plan. His last appearance was registered in August 2015 and, although he remained his country’s No.1 for the remainder of their Euro 2016 qualifying campaign, he duly lost his place at international level from the turn of the year.
“I knew before I signed that it wasn’t the biggest club in Belgium, but I didn’t expect it to be the way it was,” Marciano said. “It was a weird situation. They brought in a lot of players and there was a big mess at the club.
“I was the first choice at the start but we started losing a lot of matches at the start of the season and the coach and the board got nervous about that and brought in a lot of new players, including a goalkeeper.
“You need six Belgian players in the squad so they would usually put the Belgian guy on the bench ahead of me, and I would often be in the stand. That is the first time I’ve had that in my career. From 19 years old, I was the first choice at my club in Israel, so it was a weird experience for me to sit outside and watch my friends play.
“It was not easy, but this is football. I’m not mad about anything. I just want to use the situation to make myself better.”
Marciano, aided by his religious faith, was able to remain philosophical even though his previously serene career had stalled without him doing a lot wrong.
“At the start, I was nervous about the situation but quickly I realised that your career as a footballer is very short – 15 years, maybe – so you don’t have time to cry about things that happen to you,” he said.
“I had a lot of time to think about things when I was in Belgium, but it made me stronger mentally because I learned how to stay positive in a difficult time. Sometimes things like that happen in football, so you need to be strong and not let it break you. I have faith in God so I was not afraid of the situation. I don’t regret it. You make decisions in life. I just have to learn from it to be better in the future.”
The negative experience he endured at his previous club is allowing him to savour life as Hibs’ No. 1 even more than he ordinarily might. “Because it didn’t work out in Belgium, it made me prefer to stay in Europe this season instead of go back to Israel, where I had good offers,” he said. “I didn’t feel satisfied by the way Belgium went so I wanted to have another shot at playing in Europe. I felt like I had to try again and I had a great opportunity to come to Hibs and take my career a step forward.
“When you don’t play a lot at one club, normally you have to take a step down but for me Hibs is a huge step forward. I don’t feel like I’ve taken a step back. This club is amazing. The vibes are a lot more positive here than they were at my last club.
“I appreciate what I have here a lot more because of what happened in Belgium. I’m very happy that God put me in this situation because if I had succeeded in Belgium I might not have come to Hibs. God helps keep you balanced, which is good for life.”
Marciano, who is currently living in Musselburgh as he and his wife search for a flat in Edinburgh, hasn’t had a save of note to make in his two outings so far for Hibs, against Morton and Turriff United.
“I haven’t had much to do in my first two games because my friends in front of me have helped me,” he said. “We are communicating well. But I will have a lot of work to do this season, so I will be ready for that. As a goalkeeper, you don’t need to be fantastic every game, you just need to make sure you do your job and keep everything peaceful and give confidence to my team-mates and the crowd. When you make a magnificent save, of course it adds to your performance.”
Marciano was left out of the Israel squad for last weekend’s defeat by Italy but he remains prominent on the radar and is likely to be restored to the squad for next month’s World Cup qualifiers against Macedonia and Liechtenstein. “I hope that I will play well for Hibs and get back in the national team for the two games next month,” he said. “This is my target. The coach called me before the match against Italy to say he was thinking about me and that he would wait until I play for my club and then call me back in. They trust me and know what I can do for the national team. It gives me a lot of confidence that they called me and said I was important to them even though I hadn’t played much in the last year.”