Whatever happened to Hibs cult hero Dominique Malonga?

A look back at the brief, but often entertaining, Hibs career of Dominique Malonga on the fifth anniversary of the player's arrival in Leith

Thursday, 5th September 2019, 4:46 pm
Dominique Malonga celebrates scoring against Aberdeen
Dominique Malonga celebrates scoring against Aberdeen

The signing came out of the blue. There had been virtually no transfer buzz, no indication that the Paris-born striker who had spent most of his career in Italy, was on his way to Hibs.

At 2.15pm on September 5 2014, Hibs tweeted.

"BREAKING NEWS: Hibs can confirm Dominique Malonga has agreed to join the club on a two-year deal. #WelcomeMalonga."

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Malonga pitched up in Edinburgh with 26 goals from 135 games for Torino, Foggia, Cesena, Vicenza and Real Murcia.

Replies to the tweet were lukewarm. Hibs had lost three of their opening four league matches following their relegation to the Scottish Championship, including against Hearts, and to compound the fans' misery, striker Farid El Alagui - who had scored four goals in his first six matches - suffered a season-ending injury in a 2-1 loss at Alloa.

Things looked bleaker still in Malonga's first match for the Capital club. Hibs trailed Cowdenbeath by two goals to one with 15 minutes left to play after taking a first-half lead. The new signing had replaced Scott Allan on the hour mark shortly after Jon Robertson had given the Blue Brazil the lead.

By full time he had grabbed the equaliser from the penalty spot and set up Jason Cummings for an injury-time winner.

"I don't care..."

The striker finished up with 16 goals from his first season in Scotland - although by his own admission, he would have reached 20 if he hadn't been on Africa Cup of Nations duty in January - and picked up where he left off in the first game of his second season in a 2-1 loss to Dumbarton.

During an interview after the game, Malonga was asked if the defeat was compounded by Rangers' victory against St Mirren the previous day.

With a Gallic shrug, Malonga replied: "I don't care about the Rangers, really... I don't care. It's just about us. Rangers won - good for them, I don't care about this, I don't care about the Rangers.

"I care just about my team and hopefully next week we can come back and get the win."

The response endeared the enigmatic striker even more to the Easter Road faithful, and it came as little surprise that he revisited the comments when Hibs won the Scottish Cup. Malonga had scored in the third-round win at Raith Rovers to help kick start the club's run to the final, but had left midway through the season. He couldn't miss the final though, and was keeping up with the game on his phone.

Taking to Twitter at 4.55pm on May 21 2016, he wrote: "GRAYYYYYYYYYYYY!!!!!!!!!!!! I don't care about......"

But to remember the striker for a throw-away comment after a match would be doing him a disservice.

Malonga may not have had the pizzazz or brass neck of his strike partner and self-styled Zing King Jason Cummings but the two linked up well in attack, scoring 37 of Hibs' 89 goals in all competitions in the 2014/15 season. The pair managed 31 the following season before Malonga returned to Italy with Pro Vercelli in January.

No more "Do do do, Dominique Malonga" chant, until it was rejigged and dusted off for Stephane Omeonga's half-season spell in Leith. No more taxi rides around Edinburgh, or perplexing lessons in Scottish slang with Tom Zanelli.

Italy.. Spain.. Switzerland.. Greece..

The player's career since departing Easter Road has been as nomadic as it was pre-Hibs.

Three goals in 16 games for Pro Vercelli, one in nine for Spanish second-tier side Elche, a goalless seven-game stint at Servette in Switzerland followed by a single strike in eight matches for Greek third-tier outfit Chania.

Speaking to the Evening News in November 2016, a rueful Malonga admitted leaving Hibs had been a "hard decision", adding: “It was so, so hard to leave when I did. I told the gaffer and the players that at the time. I loved everybody at Hibs – it was a true family.

“It’s hard to say it was a bad decision. Nobody’s perfect. I made a decision I had to make at that moment. I made the decision and I need to move on and go forward. My main regret is that I feel like there was unfinished business.

"I feel like I left my team alone and I feel so bad about that. But football is also like business and you have to make decisions about contracts and things like that."

Send in the Cavalry

Six months ago, he resurfaced in Canada, signing for newly-established Alberta-based team Cavalry FC. So far he's struck eight times in 21 games, adding two assists. He spoke enthusiastically about how a FaceTime call from manager Tommy Wheeldon Jr. convinced him to make the move to Calgary.

Speaking to the Northern Tribune in April, Malonga said: "Tommy, the boss, he called me - we spoke on FaceTime. Unbelievable. The impact he had on me pushed me to come here.

"He knew everything about me, and he had spoken to the coach I had before, who said I'm a 'laid-back dude'.

"That's important for me, for someone to know me [and know] who I am. Tommy knows what I can bring to the team so I'm really happy about that part."

Hibs fans wouldn't begrudge Malonga the chance to enjoy his football again.

The Canadian Premier League is in its infancy, with just seven teams involved at the moment, while Cavalry FC were only founded last May - a new beginning for club and player, if you like.

While Hibs fans prepare for the trip to Kilmarnock a week on Saturday, Malonga will be making the 300km trip north with his team-mates to face Edmonton as first plays third. Don't bet against him finding the back of the net.

"I still don't care..."

In late Spring 2017, Malonga - attached to Elche at the time - posted a short message on social media:

"I am watching Hibs v "the" Rangers!!! What a game! 25 min 3-1 Oh MY!! And I still don't care about..."

Yes, Dominique Malonga still doesn't care much for Rangers.

But there's a sense that he still cares about Hibs, still holds an affinity for the club not too dissimilar to the fans' feelings for the player.

In the same 2016 interview with the Evening News, the affable striker added: "When you stay in Edinburgh, you know Hibs is a great club - but it is only when you leave that you realise just how great a club and how great a family it is.

“Hibs was one of the best times in my career. It was a pleasure to play for Hibs, I was really proud.

"You never know, maybe I will play for Hibs again. The fans are the best. I love them. I really miss Hibs and the Hibs family.”

It is unlikely, for many reasons, that Malonga will manage to strike up a rapport with fans to rival the relationship he had with the Hibs support during his 16 months in Edinburgh. His arrival came at a time when Hibs needed a focal point in attack, someone who could score goals out of nothing and would complement and link up well with Cummings. Hibs got all that, and much more.

Malonga may have only spent a season and a half at Easter Road but the sum of his contribution - a hat-trick away to Dumbarton in a 6-3 win, scoring against Hearts, running more than half the length of the pitch and beating four men to score against Aberdeen before whipping his shirt off and thumping his chest to name just a few highlights - left a lasting impression on the terraces.

In a profession where it can all be over in the blink of an eye, players have to make decisions often with one eye on the future. There's no doubting Malonga did that by opting to return to Italy instead of remaining at Hibs.

But it's not a cert that he would have maintained his goalscoring run at Easter Road. Had he stayed for longer things could have gone sour, managerial changes might not have worked out and he could well have left under a cloud.

As it is, the mercurial striker departed - and remains - a cult hero.