Hakeem Odoffin was the most underrated player in the Scottish top flight last season. This was for three reasons: he played for Hamilton Accies, they finished bottom of the league and he’s a defensive midfielder.
Signed as a right-back having failed to establish himself at Livingston in that position, Odoffin was used at centre-half to start the season when it soon became apparent guys they’d actually signed to play that role weren’t good enough. He was an effective stopper at the heart of the defence, being consistently proactive and aggressive in stepping out and challenging attackers either on the deck or in the air. However, it was once he moved into the centre of the park that he truly became one of the elite players at his position in the league.
The statistics were incredible. Not in an attacking sense, it must be said, ranking dead last of 21 Scottish Premiership defensive midfielders and No.8s in terms of received passes, shot assists and progressive runs. But on the defensive end he was imperious: first in interceptions, first in loose ball duels, fourth in defensive duels, first in ball recoveries and first in blocked shots. If you wanted to win the ball back, Odoffin was your man.
He’s also not a complete dud on the football either. His technique is pretty solid and when pressured by opponents he has enough elusiveness to get himself out of tight situations and put his team on the front foot.
He was available on a pre-contract for two months and it was baffling no Premiership side with deeper pockets than Hamilton made a serious move to go and get him. It meant Accies were able to sign him to a one-year extension and will earn themselves a cash reward for doing so if anyone desperately wants the 23-year-old this summer, which someone definitely should.
Should that team be Hibs though? Jack Ross already has a former Accies midfield destroyer in Alex Gogic, who still has a year left on his deal. Unless there is something behind the scenes we don’t know about, you’d expect Gogic to remain as the defensive-midfield starter this term. He and Odoffin together as a double-pivot in a 4-2-3-1 would be an interesting tactic against the Old Firm or perhaps away to Hearts or Aberdeen, but it’d be too cautious to use against anyone else.
Then there’s the recent signing of Jake Doyle-Hayes. Though he plays the position differently to the other two, he’s still at his best in defensive midfield. Hibs didn’t have anyone to play the role under Paul Heckingbottom, but having three such specialists would be almost as strange, especially with the departure of Jackson Irvine stressing the need for a central midfielder who can influence play further up the park.
The key, similar to Paul McGinn, might be in Odoffin’s versatility. He’s shown he can play three positions competently in this league and, like the aforementioned hero, his presence will allow the Hibs manager to change shape without changing the personnel.