Why the rapid rise of Kanayo Megwa can help solve positional riddle for Hibs
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When it became clear that Chris Cadden would be sidelined for a significant portion of 2023/24 after sustaining a serious injury during the 1-1 draw with Hearts on the final day of last season, there might have been some concern from Hibs fans about their right-back options for the upcoming campaign. Lewis Miller put in some good showings late in the year after an injury-disrupted start to life at Easter Road but beyond the Australian full-back, there weren’t a lot of in-house options available – and Josh Campbell doesn’t count, despite featuring there a couple of times in an emergency.
Step forward Kanayo Megwa. The 19-year-old arrived at Hibs in the summer of 2021, signing following a successful trial spell, and caught the eye as the under-18s won the CAS Elite league title in his first year at the club. His performances in the UEFA Youth League against the likes of Molde, Nantes, and Borussia Dortmund were also impressive and earned him a few inclusions in the senior matchday squad, although he didn’t get on the pitch. Perhaps he might have, had Hibs been in more favourable circumstances in terms of league position at the time. A loan spell with Kelty Hearts in the second half of last season, arranged as he signed a new two-year deal with the Capital club, marked him out as one for the future as he shone in League One playing regular senior football.
The loan move was arranged with Megwa’s progression to the first team in mind – challenging him to prove he could handle regular SPFL football with the expectation that he would do well, learn more from his first senior league experience, and return a more rounded player capable of making the step up.
It was little surprise then, when he was one of four youngsters named in the travelling squad for the pre-season training camp in Spain, and less so when he was namechecked for praise in Lee Johnson’s post-match remarks after the 2-0 friendly victory over Europa FC on Saturday afternoon. He will be involved when they take on English Premier League side Bournemouth on Thursday evening in Marbella; when Groningen come to the Capital on July 21, and when Hibs embark on their UEFA Europa Conference League campaign against either Víkingur Gøta or Inter Club d’Escaldes.
Megwa has been played at right-back, right-wingback, both left-sided and right-sided centre-back in a back three, and right-sided centre-back in a back four during his outings for the under-18s, under-19s, and development squad, and that has been key to his own development.
He shunted seamlessly between right-back and right-sided centre-back during the Youth League and excelled in both roles. Against Dortmund he kept Samuel Bamba so quiet that the winger was dragged off after 67 minutes after getting no joy down that side. His performances led to calls from Hibs fans for a more prominent role in the first-team squad. They might well get their wishes in the coming weeks, particularly with Lewis Miller facing a short spell on the sidelines with a calf issue.
Is he ready?
Undoubtedly – but only at right-back. At the moment, he probably lacks the experience and height to operate effectively at centre-back, given the strikers he could potentially face. But at right-back, he would be a calm presence alongside an experienced senior central defender. Supporters who attended the mid-season friendly against Middlesbrough might remember his robust but perfectly legal challenge on visiting forward Sonny Finch, which left the former England Under-17 cap in a bit of pain. After winning the ball Megwa got up and started an attack which ended with Liam Roberts tipping a Ewan Henderson effort from distance around the post.
A tenacious tackler at the best of times, Megwa reads the game very well and can anticipate danger in advance. It’s rare to see him diving in for a last-ditch tackle; it’s not rare to see him coming away with the ball nine times out of ten from duels with opposing forwards.
How it affects transfers and pathways
With Cadden unlikely to return before the second half of the campaign, Miller will be the designated right-back for Lee Johnson, likely in a 4-3-3 set-up. Crucially, Hibs adopted similar tactics during the Youth League games so Megwa is well-versed in what is required of a right-back in that formation. Having Megwa as back-up and competition for the right-back berth means Hibs can focus transfer activity on other areas of the squad – such as centre-back, with Hibs remaining hopeful of striking a deal to bring Will Fish back to Edinburgh.
Promoting Megwa also means another youth player emerging from the academy into the first team. Johnson spoke a lot about not wanting to block pathways to the first team for younger players and while he might have been hamstrung last season by a slightly bloated senior squad and the need for experienced players week in, week out where possible, there should be more scope for youngsters to infiltrate the senior squad this season.
Football has changed from the ‘if he’s good enough, he’s old enough’ approach of old. Maturation is key these days, with players developing at different rates. Physically, Megwa has come on leaps and bounds even from when he featured against Dortmund in early February and that’s often one of the limitations of youngsters thrown in – that they lack the upper body strength to avoid being brushed off the ball.
The next couple of friendlies should offer more of a glimpse at why Megwa can make the transition to the first-team squad. Importantly, he is trusted by the coaching staff. He does the basics well, he is strong defensively and going forward, and even the time in Spain will help him to keep progressing. He could very well be the Hibs breakout start of the 2023/24 campaign.