Why Hibs signing ex-Hamilton Accies ace Alex Gogic would make perfect sense

The Easter Road side have been linked with a move for the out of contract midfielder

By Joel Sked
Thursday, 11th June 2020, 12:57 pm
Updated Thursday, 11th June 2020, 1:17 pm

Back in 1996 Manchester United legend Eric Cantona inadvertently defined a midfield role which would become a common and popular phrase within football parlance.

Ahead of the English side’s meeting with Juventus he issued a contemptible put down on his fellow Frenchman Didier Deschamps, a pivotal player in the Italian giant’s midfield.

“Deschamps gets by because he always gives 100 per cent, but he will never be anything more than a water carrier,” Cantona shot. “You find players like him on every street corner.”

Alex Gogic is understood to be interesting Hibs. Picture: SNS

The midfielder, who would go on to captain France to 1998 World Cup success, took the derisive moniker and wore it as a badge of honour: “Every team needs its water carriers.”

Yet, nearly 24 years later, it was something former Hibs boss Paul Heckingbottom seemed to want to put to the test. Mark Milligan and Marvin Bartley were allowed to leave at the end of the 2018/19 campaign. No replacement in their mould arrived.

A selfless player, essentially defensive midfielder, to provide a platform for the team and act as a reference point.

“You’re there to work hard and to help everyone else, before yourself,” another French great Patrick Viera said of the role.

Didier Deschamps, the original water carrier. Picture: SNS

Last season’s problems

It was clear from early on that Hibs were missing an individual of such ilk. Six goals were shipped to Rangers, three to Greenock Morton, three to Motherwell, two to Kilmarnock, St Johnstone and Hearts before October. 126 days passed between the team’s first league clean sheet and their second.

Come the shutdown and subsequent season end, only the bottom three had conceded more than Hibs’ 49. Hamilton Accies just one more, Hearts three.

If you were therefore to conduct a poll of Hibs fans asking them to name the position which should take priority when they enter the transfer market this summer, a defensive-minded midfielder would feature highly.

IMAGE 1: Gogic senses the danger.

Enter Alex Gogic.

The Cypriot’s name has been mentioned by fans, as a player the club could target and, as the Evening News reported on Wednesday, at the club as well with the player on their radar.

Despite the offer of a new deal at Hamilton Accies amidst the current uncertainty, he opted to leave on a free when his contract expired at the end of May, citing his desire to seek a new challenge.

His stock has never been higher in Scottish football following arguably the best season of his career, and it’s understood Hibs are not the only Premiership club interested.

IMAGE 2: Gogic covers gaps.

Premiership MVP candidate

When you look around the league at the importance of individual players to their clubs, Gogic was certainly up there among the most valuable to his side.

In his three and a bit seasons at Hamilton he had largely been a useful, reliable and flexible utility player. He was still all of those things in the campaign just past, but he largely formed a protective shield in front of the Accies defence for manager Brian Rice. There was a real consistency to his performance.

Considering Hamilton’s approach to matches, his combativeness, game intelligence and defensive qualities were vital. Accies’ average possession share of 37.6 per cent was by far the lowest in the league. When teams don’t have the ball they are required to defend and be organised and it is therefore no surprise they faced the most shots in the league (478).

Hibs, despite enjoying nearly 50 per cent of possession, which was the fifth highest, still gave up more than 400 shots. Their 419 was the fourth highest in the league.

A big issue early in the season was the deployment of the likes of Stevie Mallan and Josh Vela as midfielders with a large defensive responsibility. It didn’t play to their strengths and Hibs gave up far too many easy goals. One which sticks in mind is Ross County’s late equaliser at Easter Road when Mallan and Vela failed to block a shot.

IMAGE 3: Fouls are a key part of Gogic's game to make it difficult for opponents.

Melker Hallberg was required to take on more ownership of the defensive side of the midfield, but as Jack Ross pointed out after the 3-0 win over Aberdeen it’s not his game, while the switch to a back three helped somewhat.

It is telling that not one Hibs midfielder features in the top 30 for defensive duels, interceptions, aerial duels, shots blocked or fouls committed for the Scottish Premiership season past.

Water carrier and firefighter

Again, enter Alex Gogic.

He was 1st, 1st, 18th, 6th and 4th in those categories.

The 26-year-old is not someone you are going to be drawn to during highlights. In fact, there is a good chance you won’t notice him at all unless he is in the background when Accies concede or he is scoring – which he did once this past season, against Hibs.

His portfolio of work is one you appreciate over time.

“As a defensive midfielder you must be tactically aware,” Viera said. “You’re at the heart of the team so you have to hold everything together and allow other players to express themselves.”

Gogic’s awareness allows him to be such an effective weapon putting out fires.

In IMAGE 1 you can see Gogic’s desire to get back and help the team as they face a threatening situation against Aberdeen. In the picture he is looking at where the danger is, rather than where the ball is. Seconds later he gets back into the exact area the ball is crossed and he intercepts.

In the 1-0 win at Ibrox which proved huge in Accies’ survival, the midfielder put in a titanic performance. Late in the game you can see him covering gaps (IMAGE 2), continuing to make sure Rangers players don’t get an easy time of it.

Much needed signing

That is a huge aspect of what makes him such a formidable midfield destroyer, his willingness to shut down and make it uncomfortable for opponents. There were times under Heckingbottom, Hibs were too much of a soft touch. Gogic would bring an uncompromising personality. He may not have a hulking presence but that does not put him off haring towards opponents, using his body and putting his foot in.

Having someone who breaks up play and commits fouls to stop the team from being too open is a necessity, as IMAGE 3 shows.

In possession he isn’t flashy in the slightest. Bursts from midfield and dribbles would be a rarity and his passing accuracy can be wayward (68.61 per cent last season), but it’s the solid foundations where the investment will pay its dividend.

When possession is lost fans want to see their players burst a gut to get back into position or behind the ball (see IMAGE 4). Gogic’s first thought is to protect, to help out. Such willingness allows him to get in positions to do so. That’s why he blocks so many shots and just gets in the round (IMAGE 5).

His experience at centre-back where he dropped into on a number of occasions last season, will have been incredibly useful in knowing the positions to take up as a midfielder without getting in the way or too much on top of those behind him.

The signing of Alex Gogic for Hibs wouldn’t fall into the ‘exciting’ category. But it would tick the shrewd, practical and valuable boxes, not to mention much needed. He is the water carrier the team have been missing.

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IMAGE 4: The Cypriot has a real willingness to the get back behind the ball.
IMAGE 5: He will block shots.