Jack Ross hopes Ofir Marciano doesn’t sink Scotland ambitions
Normally, Jack Ross would want to see his international players star on the world stage but this week the Hibernian manager’s judgement is skewed by patriotism.
Israeli goalkeeper Ofir Marciano has been in impressive form for the Easter Road side, who have built their early season success on sound defensive displays and a clutch of quality saves from the 30 year-old have exemplified the side’s fortitude.
But while his club boss is delighted to see the 16-times capped keeper called into Willibald Ruttensteiner’s Israel squad he said that, unusually, he won’t be rooting for him come matchday.
Israel are the opposition for Steve Clarke’s men at Hampden on Friday in the Uefa Nations League.
The sides meet again at Hampden next month with a place in last season’s Nations League play-off final against either Norway or Serbia up for grabs. The winner of that tie will qualify for Euro 2021.
Ross acknowledged that a lot of people who would normally be backing the Hibs player on international duty will be less inclined to do so this week.
“Yeah, me included,” he conceded. But, if there was a way for Marciano to deliver a high-calibre performance and Scotland to still find a way of winning, he would be delighted with that.
“He knows it’s a big thing for him, he’ll recognise the attention and exposure it brings because he’ll already have had credit for our defensive record this season and the number of clean sheets.
“If he can replicate that at international level then his reputation will grow again.
“It is about building reputations in football and he has that already and, if he keeps enhancing it, then the future for him and his family is good.
“Hopefully, that’s here, if not then in years to come because as a goalkeeper he still has plenty of years ahead of him.”
Having exited from the lengthy lockdown in even better shape than he entered it, there are already plans underway to extend his current contract and his displays this term have done nothing to undermine his negotiating power.
“I have been really pleased with him,” admitted Ross, who knows how difficult the man who has been plying his trade in this country since 2016, will make life for the Scotland strikeforce.
“He’s 30 now and at an important stage of his career and he used the lockdown to adjust some bits of his lifestyle. He came back in looking leaner – not that he wasn’t in good shape – but he has changed little bits of his diet and he is very conscientious and has a routine he works hard at.
“I think we both agreed that, while he did ok for me last year, we both felt we hadn’t seen the best of him and he has come back this season with that motivation to show that. So far he has shown that.
“The great thing for us is that, outwith Jon McLaughlin at Rangers, he has faced the least number of shots, which is great for us as a defence. But when he has been called upon he has made important saves.
“If we can continue that combination, where we don’t make him do too much, but when he is called upon he makes good saves, that will be good for us.”
Describing Marciano as “a pleasure to work with”, the Hibs boss believes the man who helped the club to promotion in his first season in Leith, is “in a good place at the moment” and while some may want to run him out the country if he proves pivotal in dashing Scottish dreams this week, Ross would like the keeper to extend his stay.
Until recently, securing winger Martin Boyle on a long-term deal had been the priority, meaning that Marciano’s contract talks have yet to progress beyond the preliminary stage. But with the Scottish-born Australian international now tied up until 2023, the club can now focus on others whose current deals are running down.
“It has been a little bit difficult because the economic situation has changed at a lot of clubs. But we’re aware of the ones [whose contracts] we have to address and I am sure those conversations will begin soon.”
For Scotland and for Hibs’ sake, the hope is he doesn’t pull off the kind of heroics on Friday that would see his stock rise.
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