Jamie Maclaren: Hibs derby goal will help my World Cup dream
Jamie Maclaren already has a few mementoes of life as an international football player, the shirts of Brazilian ace David Luiz and England's Chris Smalling framed and sitting at home.
But now the striker has his eyes on collecting a few more having earned a recall to the Australian squad as they begin to prepare for this summer’s World Cup finals in Russia.
Maclaren began to despair of being involved at all as a move from Brisbane Roar – where he’d collected the Golden Boot with 20 goals in just 29 games last season – to German outfit Darmstadt turned horribly wrong.
In a bid to end that nightmare the 24-year-old pushed for a loan deal at Easter Road, a decision which he insists has been fully vindicated after he was named in new Socceroos’ coach Bert van Marwijk’s first squad for friendlies against Norway in Olso and Colombia at Fulham’s Craven Cottage at the end of this month.
Dutchman Van Marwijk will trim the 29 named to 23 next week, providing Maclaren with plenty of incentive going into tonight’s derby with Capital rivals Hearts after admitting his call-up had come as a bit of a surprise.
“It’s nice to be back in the frame,” he said. “It’s nice to be talked about back home in Australia. And it’s good to see my form has got some recognition from the new manager.
“I wasn’t expecting it, but I knew if I was playing regularly and my form was good, I’d have a chance. It was only a year ago that I was winning the Golden Boot in Australia so it’s nice to be back on the radar.
“Now I have just got to kick on, the World Cup is just round the corner, and I need to impress.”
Maclaren has won five caps, games which have already brought him face-to-face with some of football’s global stars.
He said: “I played against [Alexis] Sanchez when we faced Chile in Russia while we also played Brazil and Saudi Arabia in ‘pre-games’ as well. It gives you a taste, that’s what it’s all about, you want to play in the big games.
“Brazil had guys like Philippe Coutinho and I was up against Thiago Silva and David Luiz in front of my family in Melbourne. There’s no better feeling than pulling on your national team jersey.
“I swapped shirts with Luiz which was a good one and my debut was against England and I got Smalling’s shirt. I swapped jerseys with the Thailand captain [Teerasil Dangda] who is a legend for them and has around 100 caps.
“Hopefully there will be a few more to come in Russia. I frame all my jerseys and some of them are at home, a few are in Germany so they are just sitting in an empty apartment – hopefully they don’t get stolen.”
Maclaren admitted he’d struggle to put into words what playing in the World Cup finals – where Australia have been drawn against France, Peru and Denmark – would mean to him, saying: “It’s hard to explain, All the hard work you put in as a youth goes into it. It’s a massive prospect, if you are going to rattle off a few names you look at [Antoine] Griezmann, [Kingsley] Coman. It is really hard to put into words what it means to go to a major tournament.
“These are the games you want to play in, you want to play against the best and believe in yourself.
“That’s how Australians get over the line, by believing in ourselves. We might not be world beaters, but we have character and stand up to any occasion.”
Maclaren has yet to meet Van Marwijk, the successor to Ange Postecoglou who quit as the Socceroos coach shortly after guiding them to a World Cup play-off triumph against Honduras.
But Maclaren is well aware that he’s been watched since arriving in Edinburgh.
He said: “I haven’t spoken to the coach yet but he has obviously sent some scouts out and about in the UK. I knew they would be watching and some of the Scottish games get televised back in Australia as well.
“Van Marwijk is based in the Netherlands so he may have been over to a few games, I don’t know.
“When I was playing regularly in Australia, scoring goals every week, I was in the squad and in contention. I’ve obviously had a rough six months over in Germany, but coming to Hibs has been vindicated.
“I knew Neil Lennon was a big personality in the UK and that having a good manager would help. I have a fantastic bunch of boys behind me as well who are helping create chances, and being able to play 90 minutes helps.”
Maclaren believes he is improving at Hibs and while he only has one goal to his name so far – a penalty-spot winner against Rangers – he feels he’s making a contribution to a team which has tightened it’s grip on fourth place in the Ladbrokes Premiership and has its eyes firmly fixed on European football next season.
He said: “As a striker, you get judged on goals. But, reflecting on my performances, I like to think I have been playing quite well whereas there have been games in the past when I have been awful and scored a hat-trick.
“I think I am gelling with the boys quite well as are Scotty Allan and Flo [Kamberi] and that camaraderie and rhythm will only get better week by week. I know I’ll create chances, I believe in myself and I think I’m adding something unselfishly to give other people chances.
“I think I am adding something different. I’m used to being a single striker but me and Flo are working well. I am helping him get chances; I’m working on my weaknesses as well, like coming short and linking up and Neil Lennon has pointed out things for me to improve, which I am trying to do in training.”
Maclaren admitted a goal tonight would be timely, not only in helping Hibs clinch another three points but in convincing Van Marwijk that his name shouldn’t be one of those culled from his squad next week.
He said: “It does make it big, it’s already a big occasion but for me it’s about going out and performing for the boys and for myself, trying to create chances for all of us.”
Maclaren drew back from the suggestion that a Hibs win would make Hearts boss Craig Levein “eat his words” after his jibe that the Jambos Scottish Cup win had “restored the natural order of things”, simply saying: “It’s more a case of showing the Hibs fans that this is our time. Being ahead of them in the league does help, but we want to catch the guys ahead of us, Aberdeen and Rangers.”