Hibs manager Paul Heckingbottom to use cap calls to attract new stars
Paul Heckingbottom believes Marc McNulty becoming the latest Hibs player to enjoy international recognition can only help attract future signings to the club.
The striker will fly out with Alex McLeish’s Scotland squad tomorrow night for the Euro 2020 qualifying matches against Kazakhstan and San Marino after being called up for the first time.
But McNulty is just one of a clutch of Hibs players who will be heading off to represent their countries, Vykintas Slivka called up by Lithuania and Ofir Marciano by Israel for Euro qualifiers, and Gael Bigirimana by Burundi for their final Africa Nations Cup qualifying match while Oli Shaw and Sean Mackie are in the Scotland Under-21 squad which will play friendlies against Mexico and Sweden next weekend. Moreover, Stephane Omeonga was yesterday called into the Belgium Under-21 squad.
However, while Slivka, Marciano, and Bigirimana have all been capped in the past, McNulty will be hoping to make his Scotland debut after swapping the nightmare of being frozen out by English Championship outfit Reading for Easter Road, where he’s already claimed six goals.
And, said Heckingbottom, McNulty’s story is one he can use when hoping to persuade future signing targets that they, too, can flourish in a green and white jersey.
“It’s fantastic,” said the Hibs head coach. “It’s not just Scottish recognition, we have players away all over the world so it’s a good place for them to come and play.
“They then have the confidence that their national bodies are watching them and we’d be foolish not to use that in future recruitment.”
However, while delighted for McNulty, Heckingbottom revealed that he’ll be telling him ahead of today’s crunch Ladbrokes Premiership clash with Motherwell he’s not only playing for the three points but to enjoy an active part in one or other – or even both – of Scotland’s matches.
He said: “I have to remind him he’s playing for a starting place now. He’s got a call-up, but depending on how he does he might get minutes on the pitch.
“It’s reward for him, wanting to come and play, it shows that’s where you will be judged. I’m sure they will have been watching him from his time at Coventry and to see how he does in the next step up.
“It didn’t work out, as yet, for him at Reading, but he’s come here to play, got the exposure, got the goals, got the performances, shown how fit he is, so it’s a no-brainer for them to have a look at him.
“It’s a real opportunity, it’s a carrot dangling there.”
As good as McNulty has done Heckingbottom believes there is still plenty of room for improvement for a player who’s 28 goals for Coventry earned him a £1million move to Reading last summer.
But while determined to help McNulty, the Hibs boss admitted that in doing so he might just harm his chances of extending the player’s loan deal at the end of the season.
He said: “It was his time at Coventry where lots of people started watching him, he showed a lot of consistency to his game. But it was a big jump up from League Two to the Championship, probably the biggest thing you find is the physicality and how athletic the players are.
“But we were aware of him and he has shown exactly what I’d imagined of him. He’s not surprised me in any way, I sort of expected him to be like this, so that’s pleasing.
“He is going to have a lot to learn but he is a good footballer, he’s got a good brain on the pitch and, as you have seen, he can score goals, right foot, left foot, getting across people for crosses.
“We just have to keep pushing him. He’s not the finished article, he has to keep working. If you stop working you are going to be at the level you are forever or you are going to go backwards. He has to keep striving to get better.”
Heckingbottom has given “lots of thought” to keeping McNulty, who still has more than three years of his Reading contract to run, and he conceded there were many factors which would determine what the future holds for the player.
“The one thing we know, and Marc understands, is how good we can be for each other. We will cotninue to keep pushing and improving him. We may be the place to keep doing that, but we may not because we may do it to such an extent where we rule ourselves out financially.
“I’ve got used to that over the years, that’s just the way it is, but that’s then the selling point to go and get the next one.”