Stevie Mallan on what he missed most at Hibs as midfielder reflects on Turkish loan spell and catching Covid
Stevie Mallan is happy to be home but after four months away there is work to be done.
At the moment that means grafting his way through the list of odd jobs he has been assigned around the home he shares with girlfriend Hannah, who has had to keep home fires burning in his absence.
But, eventually, it will involve him trying to impress at Hibs in the hope that he can convince boss Jack Ross that he should be a regular starter for the Easter Road club next season.
Unable to do that last term, he took a gamble by swapping the familiarity of the Scottish game for a loan spell at Yeni Malatyaspor, in Turkey. Despite some tough challenges and interesting spells, it paid off and allowed him a period of self-examination and the chance to enhance his footballing education. It has also given him greater peace of mind as he looks ahead, aware that there are options for him beyond the SPFL, if necessary.
“A few other boys signed the same day as me and they hardly played so I know it was a gamble. But, looking back, for me, I genuinely do think it was worth it,” said the 25-year-old midfielder. “I wanted game time and I got it.
“Rarely does this kind of opportunity arise so I felt it was something I had to do. I wanted to challenge myself and I played a lot of games and came up against teams like Fenerbahce, Galatasaray and Besiktas, top class teams like that. So, I am glad I went.
“Some of it was from the bench but every game I was fit, I played. I missed two games with covid but I was involved in every other game which was what I wanted when I went out there.”
But that spell in isolation was the most testing time. Not just because it interrupted one of his best runs of form, with the manager promising him more starts.
“We all had bedrooms at the training ground so that’s where I stayed when I had covid. If I went to my apartment, because I was on my own, I wouldn’t have been able to get food. But, my bedroom looked onto the training facility and I was sitting there every day watching the boys train. It was very, very frustrating. Especially as I had been playing and then when covid hit one of the other players came in and ended up doing well so when I came back it took me one or two games to get back in the team. Covid stopped the momentum I had been building and I was a bit gutted with that.”
Holed up on his own, he had his Xbox and Netflix for company but he also had his Hibs mates to cheer him up.
“The biggest thing I missed at Hibs was all the boys. It is one of the best dressing rooms I have been involved in. But we’ve got a whatsapp group and I spoke to the boys now and again and face-timed with Martin Boyle. I am close with him and Ryan [Porteous].
“That was good because a lot of the time I was on my own and they knew that.”
That camaraderie was harder to build with individual bedrooms to change in robbing him of the dressing room interaction he enjoys, while the multinational make-up of the squad meant that the language barrier also contributed, despite the numerous translators employed by the club.
“I did try to learn Turkish but it is difficult so I picked up a few wee phrases I could use in football or to get a coffee but I would have tried harder if I was staying longer.
“But I did really, really enjoy it there and got on well with a few of the boys. But we could have been closer.
“Players would pick up their training gear from the changing room but get ready in their own rooms. The next time they convened was on the training pitch.
“There was adapting to do there, too. Used to the intensity of training in Scotland, he found training a far more relaxed experience in Turkey.
“At Hibs boys want to get in the team and show the manager they should be playing so training is bang on every day and I enjoy that. It’s hard work and that’s what I like.
“Over there training is not near as tough as in Scotland. I tried to explain that to them. But over there boys don’t want to tackle in training, and definitely not tackle hard. At first I was wondering what was going on. I’m used to getting leathered left, right and centre in training but that side of football is totally different from the British game. At the start I wanted to work really hard, I wanted to run about and they would be telling me ‘c’mon we have a game at the weekend, you can’t be doing that!’ They tried to look after you.
“But, I honestly loved the games. It was a lot more technical and the pace of the game was a bit slower and I enjoyed playing a different type of football.”
And, whether he returns or not, he advocates others trying it.
“The amount of foreign players who come across to Scotland, you have to look the other way and challenge yourself. For some it will be harder to leave but as a football player, the career is short and if these opportunities do arise then I feel you do have to try to take them. You don’t want to look back after you retire and think ‘I wish I’d gone’.
“If you can go and do really well and it can bring different cultures back to our game. If more people tried going abroad, the better it would be for the country, I think.”