Ofir Marciano will be a hard act to follow - but Hibs contingency plan could be vital
Apologies to Joni Mitchell, whose lyric about not knowing what you’ve got ‘til it’s gone has become the go-to couplet of choice for football writers when discussing out-of-contract players, but in the case of Ofir Marciano, it seems particularly apt.
Signed by Neil Lennon on the eve of the side’s successful Scottish Championship title push in 2016/17, Marciano has gone on to become a key figure at Easter Road. His performances have earned him a recall to the Israeli national team and he is now considered the nation’s first choice going into the 2022 World Cup qualifiers.
The 31-year-old is fast approaching the end of his fifth and possibly final year in the Capital after a string of impressive displays and has made noises about moving on to a new challenge this summer when his contract with Hibs expires.
But despite Marciano’s performances, there is a sense that he hasn’t completely won over every Hibs fan. There are rumblings about his distribution, and how well he commands his box, despite his proclivity for outrageous saves and 55 clean sheets in 145 games.
He has the quality to help Hibs hold onto leads, and challenge superior teams, and his regular presence in goal has helped improve the defence.
Marciano is enjoying his most fruitful season to date in Edinburgh. He has already broken his clean sheet record with seven games still to play and is on track to record his lowest number of goals conceded while playing for Hibs.
While it’s perhaps difficult for fans watching at home to appreciate just how important a player Marciano has been this term there is still a suspicion that he won’t fully be appreciated until he has left the club.
With Hibs still very much in pole position for third place and European football, and with the Scottish Cup still to come, the club has a lot still to play for this season. Marciano still has a big role to play, but what happens if he does depart in the summer?
Matt Macey was signed on a short-term deal in January. His contract, like Marciano’s, expires in the summer. But if the former Arsenal back-up is content to sign a new deal at Easter Road then Hibs have a ready-made replacement for the Israeli. Macey arrived in January primarily to replace Dillon Barnes after parent club QPR recalled the on-loan ‘keeper, and made his debut just a few days after signing in the 1-1 draw against Celtic. However, it’s not unthinkable that Macey might also have been signed as part of a contingency plan in the event of Marciano leaving.
Macey conceded just one goal in his two appearances and none from open play and at 26 will be looking for regular first-team football. If Marciano leaves in the summer and Macey is content to stay then Hibs already have a replacement who knows the team and the system who is well-known to the coaching staff.
With Kevin Dabrowski presumably ready for the demands of top-flight first-team football then Hibs will have two highly-rated goalkeepers at their disposal. Assuming European football is on the horizon for the Capital club then having Dabrowski and Macey ready to go means they avoid risking a repetition of the Intertoto Cup match against VK Vetra in 2004 when teenagers Ally Brown and Andy Reid were the only available goalkeepers.
Give Dabrowski the gloves
Football is seldom a straightforward game on or off the pitch, and there is the possibility that Macey might want to return to England or be made a better offer. That scenario could see Kevin Dabrowski handed a chance to impress.
The Polish ‘keeper impressed on loan at Dumbarton in the first half of the season and got a taste of Hibs first-team action – of sorts – in a pre-season friendly at Celtic.
He is at an age where he needs to be playing football and depending on the situation with Marciano and Macey, he could get his chance in a Hibs shirt come July.
He has spent time training with the first team and goalkeeping coach Craig Samson will be only too aware of his strengths and weaknesses.
However, like Macey, the 22-year-old is also out of contract in the summer and would need to sign a new deal. While he is talented and highly-rated by the coaching staff at Easter Road, Hibs will likely need to move quickly if they wish to hold on to one or both of Macey and Dabrowski and avoid a nightmare situation in which they have a limited amount of time to effectively rebuild their entire goalkeeping quota.
Best case scenario?
There are several possible outcomes this summer. One; Marciano signs a new deal and the main issue is which of Dabrowski and Macey plays back-up; two, Marciano leaves and Dabrowski and Macey continue as the two first-team ‘keepers battling for the No.1 spot; three, Marciano and one of Macey or Dabrowski departs, leaving the third goalie as next season’s first choice and four, all three depart and Hibs have a big rebuild job on their hands.
Marciano has been a fine servant for Hibs over the last five seasons and has undoubtedly enjoyed his best campaign at the club this term. Few would begrudge him the chance to test himself at a higher level and increase his salary, especially with a young family and a second child on the way. But the former Ashdod No.1 and wife Shelly, along with son Sun are happy in Edinburgh and they may feel it beneficial to extend their stay with a baby due in the summer.
Nothing is certain in football; there can be many twists and turns before a contract situation is resolved. One thing is for sure: that Marciano will be a hard act to follow if he leaves. Luckily for Hibs, there’s a very good chance that their contingency plan may help soften the blow.