BY ALAN TEMPLE – @CCP_Sport
SHIRTS bearing the names of David Luiz, Chris Smalling and 100-times capped stalwart of Thai soccer, Teerasil Dangda, give testament to the international career of Jamie Maclaren to date.
They may be gathering dust in a deserted apartment in Darmstadt, however they remain the Hibernian attacker’s pride and joy; mementos gained as the most passionate of Australians realised his dream of representing the Socceroos.
His hopes of adding to that collection, perhaps with the jerseys of Antoine Griezmann, Paul Pogba or Christian Eriksen from a mouth-watering World Cup group, seemed to be dwindling as his career stalled in the German second tier earlier this season.
However, a January loan switch to Easter Road, a winning goal against Rangers and an increasingly impressive attacking rapport with Florian Kamberi have seen him named in Bert van Maarwijk’s first provisional squad as Aussie manager for upcoming friendlies against Norway and Colombia.
Maclaren’s Russian dream is back on and to say he is delighted by the prospect of adding to his five caps would be an understatement.
“It’s hard to even put it into words what it would mean to me,” said Maclaren. “I was at the Confederations Cup last year and that’s obviously a smaller version of the World Cup. All the hard work you put in as a youth goes into trying to reach this stage.
“I played against Chile in Russia and, prior to that, we played Brazil – it was only boys like [Philipe] Coutinho! I was up directly up against Thiago Silva and David Luiz and that was in Melbourne in front of my family. There’s no better feeling.
“That month we had something like six games in three weeks and it gives you a taste. When you get involved with the national team you want to stay in there.
“If you are going to rattle off a few names, you look at [Antoine] Griezmann, [Kingsley] Koman – the World Cup is a massive prospect. I played against [Alexis] Sanchez when we faced Chile last year and these are the games you want to experience, you want to play against the best and believe in yourself.
He recalled: “I swapped with David Luiz last year, which was a good one, and my debut was against England and I got Chris Smalling’s shirt. Even against Thailand, I swapped jerseys with the Thailand captain (Teerasil Dangda), who is a legend for them and has around 100 caps.
“Hopefully, there will a few more to come in Russia! I frame all my jerseys and some of them are at home. Quite a few are over in Germany – so they are just sitting in an empty apartment. I hope they don’t get stolen!”
Maclaren’s arrival in Edinburgh was not due to a dearth of options, with Hearts and several clubs in Belgium and Germany among the suitors for his signature when it became clear that he would remain a bit-part player for Darmstadt.
However, he is adamant it has taken just two months for it to become clear his loan move to Hibs was the right call.
“I’ve obviously had a rough six months over in Germany but coming to Hibs has been vindicated,” he continued. “I’m scoring, creating chances and I think I’m adding something different.”
While Maclaren, a level-headed and eloquent sort, will not get ahead of himself, it is not outwith the realms of possibility that he could lead the line for Australia.
They are a nation without a recognised number nine. The days of Mark Viduka are long gone and Tim Cahill, 38-year-old Millwall substitute, still commands an attacking berth. A traditional attacker is in demand and, when he was pillaging goals for Brisbane Roar in the A-League, Maclaren was seen as the heir apparent.
“I knew if I was playing regularly and my form was good I’d have a chance,” he added. “It was only a year ago that I was winning the Golden Boot in Australia. it’s good to see my form has got some recognition from the new manager. Now I have just got to kick on – the World Cup is just around the corner and I need to impress.”
Former Holland, Borussia Dortmund and Feyenoord boss van Maarwijk will, however, want to see Maclaren excel on the biggest stages in Scotland. Keeping his cool to covert a penalty at Ibrox to secure a 2-1 triumph is a good start. Starring on TV against Hearts at a sold-out Easter Road, under the lights on a Friday night, would be even better.
“The squad has still to get cut so I have got to perform against Hearts,” added Maclaren. “Standards need to be set.
“That does make [the derby] big. However, it’s already a big occasion and I try to zone out on those sort of outside factors, I can’t control them.
“For me it’s about going out and performing for the boys and for myself, trying to create chances for all of us.”