Life was beginning to look good again for Farid El Alagui after a serious knee injury all but wrecked his move to Brentford.
Back north of the border where he had made his name in a phenomenal season with Falkirk, the striker was again on the goal trail, netting four times in his first five matches for Hibs.
But, in a cruel twist of fate, the French ace once more found himself the victim of serious injury, a snapped Achilles tendon as he faced Alloa Athletic on their plastic pitch at the Indodrill Stadium threatening to end his first season in for Hibs before August was even out.
Today, though, the smile is back on the 29-year-old’s face after he was given the green light by the surgeon who conducted a revolutionary operation to step up his comeback bid. The day he again takes to the pitch may still be a number of weeks away but El Alagui is just happy there is, at last, light at the end of the tunnel.
However, given his experience at Brentford where he suffered serious ligament damage in his left knee, the Bordeaux-born striker knows the virtue of patience.
He said: “I saw the surgeon who operated on me again on Monday, he said everything was good and gave me the thumbs up to start jogging. Good news to know I am moving forward.
“We will see how long it takes. But I do not like to give a date because if I don’t meet it then people will think there’s a problem and I do not want that. I was told it could take between four and six months to be back. I said between January and March – obviously earlier would be better.
“But January would just be four months, a bit early and if I was to be back by then it would be amazing. What happened to me at Brentford gave me an idea of what I was facing, the rehabilitation I’d be going through, but you never know. Sometimes things go well, sometimes it can take a bit longer.
“I’d only been at Brentford a few weeks so what happened wasn’t the best thing for me and now I’d just got started at Hibs and I’ve been hit by another serious long-term injury. Unfortunately these things happen in your career, you have to get on with it and the best thing you can do is get back stronger than before.
“I was lucky when I came back then, everything was fine, there was no reaction and hopefully it will be the same again. When you pick up such an injury the good thing to do is to set a few short-term challenges which are good for the mind.
“At the start you can’t’ walk so you want to walk, but if you think you are going to run straight away after an operation it would depress rather than help you. Every time I can do something more I try to enjoy it because it helps me get through.”
To this day El Alagui remains mystified as to how he came to rupture his right Achilles, realising there was something seriously wrong when he tried to run after landing following an aerial challenge. He said: “I thought I’d been kicked and appealed for the foul but there was no-one behind me. The Achilles had snapped but because it was like basically severing a nerve there was no pain. I knew it was bad because I could not feel the tendon and the physio was able to say right away what had happened because there was a hole in there between the two ends [of the tendon].
“I thought my season was over and that was the most painful feeling I could have after starting to feel good again. At that stage everything is going through your mind and I felt really low for a few days.
“I’d started to do well with Hibs, only a few days earlier I’d scored twice as we came back to beat Dumbarton in the League Cup having been two down. Everything was looking good and then I was thinking that was it for the season.” However, he was lifted after meeting his surgeon who explained a radical new procedure which, he insisted, could halve the time he was facing on the sidelines. “I was lucky I was able to have the operation the next week when he inserted an internal brace which, he said, would allow me to come back quicker, which was obviously good to hear.”
Even so, El Alagui revealed the injury has robbed him of one of the red-letter days in his calendar, Hibs’ trip to Falkirk on Saturday. Having arrived as an unknown from lower league football in France in 2011, El Alagui set the Bairns alight with 27 goals in his solitary season with the club and, naturally, he still has fond memories of his time there.
He said: “When the fixtures come out you put a little cross next to the ones that are special and Falkirk away was one I’d marked off. I have so many good moments there. I still keep in touch and speak with a lot of people at Falkirk quite regularly.
“I was looking forward to going back as a Hibs player. I’ve been back before, invited by Falkirk, but this one was going to be a bit special although I’ll still be going through on Saturday as a spectator.”
His fellow Frenchman, Dominique Malonga, will be filling a similar role, the Congolese internationalist, who arrived at Easter Road following Farid’s injury, suspended after being sent off as Hibs beat Alloa in the Scottish Cup but, El Alagui revealed, he cannot wait for the day the pair can spearhead the Hibs attack.
He said: “Dominique has done very well, his goal scoring ratio is one any striker would love to have. He was a bit like me, coming here without any real knowledge of Scottish football, but he has done really well, settled in and scoring goals just as I had done at Falkirk.
“It’s not just his goals, he has brought something fresh and lifted the team.
“We are definitely a stronger side now. I’d scored four before I was injured and I’d like to think I’d have got a few more by now if I hadn’t been out although the striker’s life can be hard as sometimes you don’t score for a while.
“But hopefully when I am back we can have a very strong attacking force.
“Jason Cummings has also scored a few goals and Paul Heffernan when he plays can score at any time. It’s going to be exciting. I think there’s going to be a real challenge among us and that can only be good for the team as we will have a lot of big games in the second part of the season.”