Over the weekend Hibs completed the signing of Australian international Mark Milligan subject to a work permit. Joel Sked looks at what Hibs can expect from their new recruit.
Versatile and composed
After the 3-2 win over Ross County in the Betfred Cup on Sunday Neil Lennon told reporters: “We need physicality. He is athletic. He is very experienced. He had a good World Cup and I like his composure on the ball and he is a big boy and can get around the pitch.”
Milligan is a more than useful addition to the Hibs squad. With wingers Darryl Horgan and Thomas Agyepong being joined by the Australian defensive option Lennon is not only increasing his options but adding balance to the team.
Capable of playing in defence or at the base of midfield, Milligan offers versatility but will likely be used mostly in midfield and can be seen as an upgrade on Steven Whittaker. While the injured Marvin Bartley is a more combative presence in the middle, the Aussie interprets the role differently.
His reading of the game is to the standard you expect of an international who has gone to four World Cups. He is an able tackler but uses such a method as a last resort.
No Australian player at the World Cup in Russia passed the ball more than Milligan and he also had the best passing success rate. Finding a team-mate 94.63 per cent of the time put him in the top 25 for best passers at the World Cup.
What may be of most benefit to the team is his range of passing. He largely keeps his passing neat and efficient but can open up his body and drop passes over the top for wingers. It was an aspect of John McGinn’s game which was both underrated and under-appreciated.
Hibs don’t lack in experience, certainly in defensive areas. But the addition of Milligan will bring an organising quality in the centre of the pitch.
“Mark’s the sort of player that will drive other players and he will organise and talk out there,” said former coach Steve O’Connor.
Hibs’ rivals Hearts demonstrated last season the affect a lack of experience can have to a team. Speaking ahead of the Asian Cup in 2015, Milligan explained that he prefers influence through demonstration rather than ranting and raving.
He said: “The biggest thing for me when I was younger, I guess on the other side of things, was that I’d look across and see the older boys every day working their socks off, making sure they did all the little things properly. For me, I think the best way for me to learn from other players is to have them leading by example.”
Lennon is adding a true professional to the squad which should be of benefit to the team in the short, medium and long-term.
His boss at Melbourne Victory, ex-Rangers midfielder Kevin Muscat, said just that: “Visually watching the way he went about his business, that experience is invaluable, not only to the younger group, but the whole team.”
First foray into Europe
Milligan has spent all his career until now playing his football in Asia and Australia. In 2007 and 2008 he had trial spells with Metz in France, German side Werder Bremen, as well as Arsenal and Manchester City. It looked like he would finally get his chance in Europe with Crystal Palace in 2013 only for the move to fall through.
A range of issues prevented any move to England or Europe transpiring, from visa issues, to disagreements over transfer value to Australia’s lowly-standing in the FIFA rankings.
It has led to an interesting career which has taken in China, Japan, Abu Dhabi and Saudi Arabia. His spell in Japan with JEF United Chiba was cut short in 2011 when he fled the country due to an earthquake and tsunami off the Pacific coast.
He’s been most successful in his native Australia, being crowned A-League champion twice, once with Sydney FC and once with Melbourne Victory.
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The 33-year-old arrives at Easter Road with 71 international caps, while he has represented Australia more than 100 times at various age levels.
Milligan was the youngest member of the Socceroos squad for the 2006 World Cup in Germany but didn’t feature at any point. He was selected for the 2010 World Cup in South Africa but again didn’t play a single minute. It was a case of third time lucky in Brazil four years ago when he started for his country against Chile.
This summer in Russia he was an integral part of the Australia squad, playing every minute as Australia picked up one point from their three group stage fixtures.
In 2015, Milligan was a key member of the Socceroos team which won the 2015 Asian Cup for the first time. He even netted in a 4-0 win over Oman in the tournament which took place on home soil.
Milligan is a highly regarded player throughout Asia. Twice he has moved for fees of $1 million, when he joined Baniyas SC in 2015 and then earlier this year on joining Saudi side Al Ahli.
Prior to the move to the Saudi Pro League he was recruited by Melbourne Victory as a marquee player. These players are seen as the best in the league and are exempt from salary cap which is in place.
One aspect of playing his football in Australia, the Gulf and Saudi Arabia is the seasons are not as hectic as those in Europe. Despite having turned 33 this year he has not yet made 350 club appearances so Hibs will be getting a player who has not suffered wear and tear to players his age who have played the majority of their career in Europe.
Yoga may not be on the menu for Milligan after he was the recipient of a bizarre injury. In 2007 the player had to take a restricted drug to heal his back after it was injured during yoga.
He aggravated a disc in his spine during the session which led to permission being granted by ASADA to undergo the treatment, which included cortisone tablets. The player had to miss a fixture as players are prohibited from having the drug in his system on match days
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