BY ALAN TEMPLE – @CCP_Sport
VYKINTAS SLIVKA admits walking onto the training pitch alongside midfield maestros Paul Pogba and Andrea Pirlo felt like stepping into his television set.
However, the 22-year-old insists he is ready to emerge from the shadow of Juventus and make a name for himself in Scotland.
Lithuanian ace Slivka was arguably his country’s hottest prospect as a teenager and landed a dream move to the Serie A giants from Ekranas in 2013.
He was immediately given the chance to train with the senior superstars and, under the watchful eye of current English Premier League champion Antonio Conte, the languid playmaker found himself crossing swords with the likes of Pogba, Pirlo, Carlos Tevez and Gianluigi Buffon.
It was a surreal situation for the youngster, but he is adamant he was not cowed by the experience.
He smiled: “Life was good at Juventus. The weather was great! They are a top club, with amazing facilities, a great coach and great players, so they give you everything you need to grow and improve.
“As a midfielder, it gave me the chance to train with some of the best players in the world in that position like [Paul] Pogba and [Andrea] Pirlo.
“It is a special experience for such a young guy. One moment you see these guys 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 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 £90 million, but you could see he was going to do something very big in football.
“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, play a lot and do well for Hibs.”
Like a plethora of youngsters before him, breaking into one of the biggest teams in world football proved a step too far for Slivka, with a place on the bench against Genoa in 2014 proving as close as he would come to a senior debut.
He spent last season on loan with Ascoli in Serie B, playing alongside former Hearts defender Blazej Augustyn, and has also been farmed out Modena, Croatian outfit Gorica and FC Den Bosch in Holland, ensuring he arrives on these shores with a wealth of experience for one so young.
Boasting 19 caps for Lithuania, Slivka has been joined by his compatriot Deivydas Matulevicius at Easter Road.
He continued: “It’s good to have another Lithuanian with me at Hibs. It really helps me settle in at the club. We are helping each other and that makes things easier. Sometimes it’s also nice to speak in your own language.
“I knew Deivydas before I came to Hibs. We have played in the national team together many times. He is a strong striker. He is very good in the box and I am sure that he can score a lot of goals for the club. He is good in the air and I would say he is ideal for British football.”
Slivka, who has declared himself fit and ready to make his debut against Partick Thistle on Saturday, is no stranger to a raucous atmosphere in Scotland, having starred at Hampden during Lithuania’s 1-1 draw, teeing up the opening goal for Fedor Cernych.
He added: “It was amazing to play at Hampden. I have great memories of that game. It was a great crowd and experiencing that noise has given me an idea of what it will be like in all the big stadiums in Scotland.
“That was a special night – my only regret is that we lost a last-minute equaliser!”
***BBC ALBA will show 38 matches, first and in full from the Scottish Premiership this season as well as selected live games from the Championship, League 1 & League 2. This weekend’s first featured match is Hibernian v Partick Thistle, in full from 5.30pm on Saturday.***