Florian Kamberi analysis: Incessant Neil Lennon criticism, Hibs team meeting and future
This time last year, a big Swiss striker had just completed the second week of a trial period at Hibs. His name was Florian Kamberi. The Easter Road club were in the process of restructuring their attacking options and head coach Neil Lennon wanted to add some venom his attack, someone who could play the Hibees’ way.
Three days later, Hibs completed Kamberi’s loan signing. He started against Motherwell that very same evening and scored on his debut.
It was a sign of things to come – the Zurich-born hitman netted nine times in 14 appearances, forged a potent strike partnership with fellow loanee Jamie Maclaren and became a fans’ favourite as Hibs finished fourth in the Premiership and qualified for Europe. Kamberi’s loan became a permanent deal in the summer and he signed a three-year contract. The player was Lennon’s marquee signing, the man to spearhead their Europa League campaign and tilt at the top three in the league.
Fast forward to today and the situation could not be more different. Lennon is on his way out of the club, suspended in the wake of a training ground meeting last Friday, and Kamberi is a shadow of the player he was, sapped of confidence and goal-scoring form.
Even as late as September last year, Kamberi – who at the time was battling a knee injury – was in decent fettle. He scored the opener in a 3-0 win over Dundee and there was a suggestion that he was on the cusp of a call-up to the full Switzerland squad.
Since that sunny day at Dens Park, Kamberi has only scored four goals in 18 games – two of which were fine efforts that came in separate games against Celtic – and the storm clouds have gathered. In the same period he has also missed two penalties and was sent off in an Edinburgh derby against Hearts. It’s hard to argue against his form dipping since the start of the season, but has he merited the tongue-lashings dished out by Lennon in recent months?
There are screeds of quotes from Lennon or his assistant Garry Parker criticising the player’s form in recent weeks, but the most scathing came in the wake of a 1-1 draw with Livingston on December 22 – one of the matches in which Kamberi failed to convert from the spot.
“I don’t know if it’s a confidence thing or a lack of application, but Flo’s nowhere near as hungry as he was last season. He needs to find that hunger again because he’s an important player for us,” said Lennon.
“He scored against Celtic but he’s not getting any tap-ins, he’s not getting across people, he’s not holding the ball up well enough and I’m relying on other players to get us out of it.
“The penalty sums him up at the minute, he’s sloppy. His all-round game at the minute is just not there. He’s had plenty of opportunities to turn things around but even on Saturday I asked him to put 90 minutes of work into 45 and told him we’d win the game.
“We put the ball into the box and had things around his feet as that’s what he’s good at but there is no work-rate. He’s not working hard enough and the point isn’t hitting home.”
Kamberi has emerged as one of the chief players in this sorry saga that is embroiling Hibs at present. There have been some wild stories doing the rounds over the weekend about Kamberi’s part in Friday’s drama, so it’s best to put those to bed.
Friday’s team debrief from the Motherwell match was heated, with a number of the first-team squad criticised for their performance. Kamberi was again on the end of aggressive verbals from Lennon and the Swiss striker snapped, answering back and storming out of the meeting.
He took all of his belongings from his locker at Hibs’ East Mains training base and went back to his flat in Edinburgh to call his representatives, telling them that he wanted to leave because of the treatment from Lennon. They calmed him down before senior members of the dressing-room got in touch with him to check on his welfare. Kamberi is still a popular member of a tight-knit Hibs squad, even if his team-mates have spoken to him about his form.
Whether Lennon’s treatment of Kamberi is the sole reason for his suspension will come out in the wash at some point. For the purposes of this article, we’ll focus solely on Kamberi. He is Hibs’ biggest asset. Bought for a six-figure sum in and one of the club’s highest-paid players, he is their main man in attack. The club view him as a player who can propel them to success on the pitch and someone who can make them a lot of money off it.
His dip in form is down to a combination of factors. From this spectator’s standpoint, Lennon’s criticism of Kamberi has been too harsh. Yes, the player has underperformed, but so have many of his team-mates – and they have not been treated in the same way. The head coach has failed to reconfigure his midfield since the departures of John McGinn, Dylan McGeouch and Scott Allan and as a result, the service to the forward line has not been of the same quality of last term. Take away three vital components of a team and the rest of it will struggle. There’s no getting away from that. Why single out one player in particular?
Tactically, Kamberi has suffered from Lennon’s tinkering. Despite being over 6ft tall, Kamberi is not a target man. He’s best utilised in a two alongside Maclaren or Oli Shaw, someone who he can dovetail with. Hibs’ last two matches are a case in point. Against Motherwell on Wednesday, he was isolated against physical centre-halves in a 4-2-3-1 and the same can be said of Sunday’s match against St Mirren, where he improved when Hibs partnered him with Shaw in the second half and, subsequently, the team scored three goals. Lennon frequently flitted between formations and systems which consequently disrupted the mojo of the team. Hibs don’t create nearly as many chances as they used to. Players have been played out of position. Daryl Horgan, for example, is a winger, not an attacking midfielder. Steven Whittaker, Stevie Mallan and Vykintas Slivka have been shunted all over the pitch. Although hamstrung by a nasty injury list, Hibs have only named the same team once in successive domestic games this season – and that was when they defeated Celtic 2-0, followed by a 0-0 draw with Rangers.
All of this has not helped Kamberi and the player’s confidence has been eroded by Lennon’s treatment of him. Once a manager who believed in him, Lennon’s sustained criticism broke him down over a period of months. Kamberi is only 23 and lives in the city on his own away from family and friends back in Switzerland. He is driven to succeed in British football and is a strong character for his tender years, but even the hardiest of people get weary of harsh words. Kamberi is clearly a confidence player and it is disturbing that Lennon felt the need to flog him so frequently when an arm round the shoulder was probably a better option. There is no doubting that Lennon is a good manager and did many positive things for Hibs in his two-and-a-half years in charge, but this chapter is not one of them.
Kamberi likes it at Hibs and, as the dust settles on Friday’s drama, has little inclination to leave in this transfer window despite the emotion of it all. There have been enquiries for a move – either permanent or on loan – but he enjoys life in Edinburgh and has built up an affinity with the fans. A departure this week seems unlikely. Tellingly, he was selected on Sunday against St Mirren and played the full 90 minutes. It would appear he has the backing of the club’s hierarchy too.
The question now is whether Hibs can get the best out of one of their key players for the remainder of the season. Whoever the new head coach is – and one suspects the emphasis will be on the word coach – they will inherit a striker who needs to be set in the right direction again. The rewards, as last season proved, will come.