Stephane Omeonga is ready for the rough and tumble of Scottish football after swapping Italy’s Serie A for the Scottish Premiership.
Hibs’ latest signing has gone straight into Neil Lennon’s squad for tonight’s top flight clash with Motherwell at Fir Park and, he revealed, he already knows what to expect thanks to the pitch made to him by the Easter Road club.
A power-point presentation highlighted exactly why the Capital outfit wanted the midfielder to move on loan from Genoa, where he had made just three appearances this season – albeit against AC Milan, Napoli and Inter Milan.
The 22-year-old said: “It was quite detailed. They compared me to midfielders in the Scottish league like [Celtic’s Olivier] Ntcham. We are in the same position and they made a comparison of what we can do to show that I can fit in this league.
“I was surprised that they knew so much about me because in Italy it’s not like that. When the club wants you, they want you. They won’t tell you, ‘we want this, we want that’.
“The fact Hibs showed me the time they took to analyse me showed a lot. The biggest thing was that they wanted me, that they have an idea and a project to build around me.
“When I was watching it, I just thought it was a fantastic place, the stadium, the fans.”
However, as impressed as he was, the Belgium Under-21 internationalist admitted he had a few reservations, only for them to disappear after he’d spoken to one-time Hibs and Hearts player Faycal Rherras and Livingston striker Dolly Menga.
He said: “I’m from Belgium, playing in Italy so my first thoughts were, ‘Scotland, I don’t know’. But one week later, you’ve made your research, spoken to the right people and I said, ‘Okay, I’m going, for sure’.
“I talked with Faycal and Dolly and they told me as a young player I’ll take good experience from here and I will definitely fit in. They know how I can play and what I can bring. I was in the youth academy of Standard Liege with Dolly.
“He is older than me, but in a youth academy you know everybody. We both come from Liege, so I know him from there.”
Omeonga moved on from Standard Liege to Anderlecht and then on to Italy with Avellino before joining Genoa, where he made more than 20 appearances, only to find regular game-time more difficult to come by in recent months.
Capped five times at under-21 level, he has his eyes fixed on this summer’s European Under-21 Championships – coincidentally in Italy – and believes going out on loan, even although he still has another two years of his Genoa contract to run, was his best option.
He said: “I played a lot of games last season, but I was in and out and I wanted to have more consistency and play game after game after game.
“I had three coaches in four months. For a young player it’s hard to always change. That’s why I wanted to be settled. For me and Genoa it was the best decision.
“At the moment I just think about the Euros in the summer. I want to be in that team. I cannot take the risk to not play and not make that tournament. It’s a big thing in my career, to play in something like that.
“So I will give my best every day in training and in every game to make that squad.”
Omeonga had never set foot in Scotland until he arrived on Saturday to have his medical and tie up the loose ends of his move before taking in that afternoon’s Scottish Cup victory over Elgin City.
“The manager was clear about what he liked about me,” continued Omeonga. “He wanted my energy to win the ball back and move it forwards.
“Italian football, like everybody knows, is more tactical. It’s slower, but there is the energy of the game here, the duels. That will definitely suit me and I expect to show people how I can fit in this league.”
Omeonga, naturally, has ambitions to force his way into the full Belgian international side and to perhaps one day move on to the English Premier League, but for now, his full focus will be on Hibs.
“Everybody thinks about England but for the moment I only think about here and I just want to show the Scottish league ‘who is Stephane Omeonga’,” he explained.
“I have faith I can make Belgium’s senior squad. I don’t see why I can’t. I’m in the under-21s, so I’ve shown that I have the quality to be there. If you don’t have ambition, don’t play football.”
Omeonga admitted he’s been looking to what the future might hold for Robert Martinez’s Belgium squad, pointing out that Tottenham Hotspur’s Moussa Dembele has just made a £11 million move to China.
He said: “He’s a midfielder, so there is some space. I have to think about it in my move, that’s why I made the choice to come here.”