Jamie Maclaren is delighted his Australian team-mate Mark Milligan has finally realised his long-held ambition to play in Britian – he’s just surprised that it’s going to be at Easter Road.
Milligan has signed a two-year deal with Hibs and, insisted striker Maclaren, the midfielder will prove to be a top-quality catch by boss Neil Lennon, revealing Scottish football was a constant topic as the pair chatted during this summer’s World Cup in Russia.
At that time there was no hint the 33-year-old could be heading for Edinburgh, although Milligan was clearly aware of the growing Aussie influence in Scotland with Tom Rogic at Celtic, where he has been joined by Daniel Arzani, while Capital rivals Hearts boast three players from Down Under in Ben Garrucio, Ryan Edwards and Oliver Bozanic.
Adamant that Milligan, capped 71 times, is probably one of the best players Australia has ever produced, Maclaren believes he’ll arrive determined to make the most of this late opportunity to realise his dream, his lack of a European family connection having proved a stumbling block in the past.
Maclaren, whose own family are from Edinburgh, explained: “Millsy has had that burning ambition to play in Britain, but unfortunately because of visa problems he has not been able to do that.
“When he first wanted to come to the UK it was very difficult for him because he only has an Australian passport. At that time the Socceroos were, I think, sitting 59th or something in the world rankings, but having got to the World Cup our ranking has gone up, which has increased his chances as he’s played more than 75 per cent of our games in the past four or five years.
“I’m just glad he’s got it all done and I can’t wait for him to come over and let the boys see what quality he is. I’m a bit surprised we have captured Millsy because he is an experienced player who has been at four World Cups with Australia.”
Maclaren revealed that when Hibs began to show an interest in Milligan the pair talked on a regular basis, with the on-loan Darmstadt hitman having had nothing but good to say about the club and Edinburgh.
He said: “The talks in Russia were just in general. Mark was asking me about Scotland because he knows about Tommy Rogic at Celtic, Arzani is there now and the three boys at Hearts. So there’s a lot of Aussie influence in Scotland. At that time, he was asking about the club, but I don’t think any discussions had taken place.
“But in the past month we have spoken quite a bit. I have told him the positives and not too many negatives and that’s going by my own experience. Since I have been here I have not had too many negatives and that’s great for me to pass on to him. The conversations have been very positive.
“I’ve told him it’s a big club, believe me mate. The city, everything, he will enjoy. For him it’s about family and really enjoying coming over. I’ve told him, mate, it’s quality.
“But he doesn’t need a 25-year-old to tell him what to do, he’s seen the success we had last year and wants to be a part of it.”
Maclaren has no doubts the Easter Road support will take to his countryman. He said: “Mark is someone who is very versatile, whether he is playing in midfield as a sort of No.6 or centre back or even right back as he did in his younger days,
“He is going to bring leadership as well. He’s a top leader and has captained Australia. We’ve always talked in the national team that Mark is probably one of the, in terms of ability, best players Austraalia has produced.
“Us Aussies like to think we are humble, but he is someone who has had such a great career, the things he has done in Asia – and you don’t play 71 times for Australia if you are not a good player. He’s been around the national team for something like 15 years. He is a fantastic player but also a great person, someone that if the gaffer needs him one day he can rely on him because he is such a leader with a wealth of experience.”
Milligan’s arrival is the latest as Hibs boss Neil Lennon looks to overcome the loss of John McGinn and Dylan McGeouch, their departures, as he has admitted, having left a big hole in the Easter Road midfield.
However, while agreeing the contribution they’d made over the past few seasons shouldn’t be forgotten, Maclaren insisted that Milligan, along with other new midfield signings Stevie Mallan, Daryl Horgan and Emerson Hyndman, shouldn’t be burdened by the expectation of being the “new John McGinn”.
He said: “It’s a bit unfair on the new boys to have comparisons drawn. It is difficult coming in as a player given what John has done over the last three years, it’s been fantastic and nothing short of remarkable for his age, growing up and representing Scotland.
“You can’t put too much pressure on players coming in, you have to be yourself. John brought his own attributes and players like Emerson and Millsy, who will come in with experience, and Daryl, they are all their own players.
“Me and Flo Kamberi came in last season as kind of nobodies in Scotland, but you kind of bring your own flair. You have to put John in the past now and really focus on the future even although what he did was fantastic.
“I think the other players will bring something special and I can see another fantastic season.”
If Milligan is as big a character as Maclaren insists, then the much-travelled player will no doubt find himself right at home at Easter Road where, despite playing a brand of football which has brought the fans back in their hordes and transformed Hibs into one of the best sides in the country, things are often done the hard way.
Sunday’s Betfred Cup victory over Ross County was a case in point, the Championship outfit twice leading before Horgan’s first goal for the club, one struck in the first minute of added-on time, clinched a quarter-final tie with Aberdeen.
“It just shows the character and experience the team has,” he claimed. “When someone does something, the whole team follows and that’s a good thing to have in the dressing-room.
“Most of us were here last season. There’s a few new faces now, but we know what it’s like at home, we are strong whether it’s in the first minute or the 90th.”
The toll exacted by Hibs’ Europa League adventure were evident as Lennon’s players began to tire, Horgan’s strike sparing them the torment of a further 30 minutes but now they have a clear week before facing the Dons on league business, time which will be put to good use as many of them enjoy a few days of well-earned rest.
Maclaren, a 63rd-minute substitute on Sunday, said: “For my match fitness I would have liked another 30, but I think for everyone it’s mentally draining. Sometimes you have to win ugly and I thought we dug deep, fought to the 90th minute and got the winner.
“Some of the boys are tired. Martin Boyle, for instance, has played a lot of football in the past month. Now we’ll refresh the batteries, some of the boys will have a few days off, some of us won’t as we need to get up to speed.”