Vykintas Slivka: I aim to use Pirlo advice to good effect

Vykintas Slivka promotes the SPFL coverage on BBC Alba with the help of Ongals and their Edinburgh Fringe show Toy
Vykintas Slivka promotes the SPFL coverage on BBC Alba with the help of Ongals and their Edinburgh Fringe show Toy
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He has served his apprenticeship alongside one of the finest ever to kick a ball in the maestro that is Andrea Pirlo.

Throw the world’s current most expensive player, Paul Pogba, into the mix and it could be said new Hibs midfielder Vykintas Slivka has had a better up bringing than most trying to find their way as professional footballers.

The highly-rated Lithuanian midfielder joined Italian giants Juventus as an 18-year-old four years ago. And although he failed to make a single appearance for the Turin club, instead being farmed out on loan to a handful of clubs around Europe over the past three seasons – his most recent stint appearing for Serie B outfit Ascoli last term – he appreciates the hours spent on the training pitch in such rich company will stand him in good stead as he prepares to embark on the next chapter of his career with Neil Lennon’s side here in the Capital.

Having signed a three-year deal with the Easter Road men last week as the club prepares for the visit of Partick Thistle on Saturday as the 2017/2018 Premiership campaign kicks-off, Slivka, now 22, accepts it is time to lay down his own marker in the game.

Reflecting on his time spent in northern Italy, he said: “Life was good. The weather was very nice! Juventus are a top club with good facilities and top coaches and players so they give you everything you need to grow and improve.

“It was a special experience for such a young guy. One moment you see these guys [Pirlo and Pogba] on TV, then you are on a training pitch with them, trying to learn all of their secrets. But I tried not to be intimidated, as we are all playing the same game and trying to do the same things on the football pitch.

“Pirlo [now at New York City FC] was just as laid back and relaxed as everyone thinks. He runs when he has to, but no more. But that is because he has the confidence and the quality to play like that. He was a really classy man. You could always ask for advice and speak to him and he would give you his time,.

“Pogba was so funny, he would always have a smile and a joke. But, even with that, you could see he was an unbelievable talent from the beginning. No-one would bet that someone would buy him for £89 million [Manchester United signed him for that fee last summer], but you could see he was going to do something very big in football.

“Players like Pirlo and Pogba worked hard at their game every day. They would do extra after training and work on their technique whenever possible. I watched what they did and tried to learn from it.

“It was a great grounding at Juventus but now I want to make a name for myself in Scotland. The most important thing is the team. You can’t just think about yourself. The team comes first – that is always my philosophy.”

It would appear Hibs have pulled off a major coup in enticing the player to Leith, Slivka joining international team-mate and striker Deivydas Matulevicius who put pen to paper on a two-year deal with the club just a week prior to completing his own transfer to Scottish football’s top flight. The duo donned the green-and-white jersey for the first time as second-half substitutes during last Saturday’s 3-0 victory at Alloa as Hibs secured their passage into the knock-out stages of the Betfred Cup as Group D winners where they will now face Ayr United in the last 16 at Easter Road on Tuesday night.

“In Lithuania, you always know a lot about the Scottish league and football here. There were so many Lithuanian players in Scotland so you watched their progress,” explained Slivka, who has 19 caps for his country and played the full 90 minutes in Scotland’s 1-1 draw with Lithuania at Hampden in a World Cup qualifier in October, even setting up team-mate Fedor Cernych to score the opening goal just before the hour mark.

“Hibs made a proposal to Juventus and my agent told me about the interest. Hibs are a big club in Edinburgh and Scotland with a big history so it was good to hear of their interest. I also knew of Neil Lennon as he was at Celtic for many years.

“Having Deivydas here is good too. It really helps because it’s such a different culture so we can help each other. It’s sometimes nice to be able to speak your own language. My new team-mates have been very friendly so far so I’ve enjoyed it. I’m ready to play this weekend but that depends on the coach.”

Slivka was forthcoming in his praise for the atmosphere generated among the Scottish supporters that night at Hampden last October. With this in mind and given the fact the youngster insists he has arrived in Edinburgh to challenge for major honours, a rendition of ‘Sunshine on Leith’ back at the national stadium in the not too distant future would surely top the lot. “I have very good memories from that game, there was a really good crowd and an amazing atmosphere so it was going well until we conceded in the last minute,” he said. “I have come here to win a trophy and be as high as possible in the league. We all know that Celtic is the biggest club but who knows.”