BY ALAN TEMPLE – @CCP_Sport
HIBERNIAN midfielder Mark Milligan admits witnessing Jamie Maclaren’s desperation to return to Easter Road convinced him to join the swathe of Socceroo stars in Scotland.
The duo were teammates at this summer’s World Cup in Russia, with Milligan playing every game for the Aussies at the tournament, and he still recalls Maclaren raving about his first spell with the capital club.
The 25-year-old scored eight goals in 15 appearances in the second half of last season and swiftly made it clear that he wanted to come back this term, ultimately getting his wish last month when he joined on loan from Darmstadt for the remainder of the campaign.
That determination struck a chord with Milligan when Hibs head coach Neil Lennon came calling for the free agent.
“Seeing Jamie [Maclaren] and the desire he had to come back to the club spoke volumes,” he confessed. “That was probably even more convincing than all the good things he had to say about Hibs.
“Just seeing how much enjoyment he had here last season and seeing how intent he was on getting back to be a part of things this season gave me a lot of confidence and made me feel at ease when we finally sat down to make the final decision.
“I’ve not heard a person say a bad word about Edinburgh and again that was another factor that helped me make up my mind. I have young children so that was important too.
“With so many Australians here [in Scotland] at the minute, probably the most there ever has been, there has been a lot of interest around this league back home and I’ve not been immune from that.”
It has been a long and winding road to British football for Milligan and he is determined to make up for lost time.
He was one of the brightest prospects in the A-League when he burst on to the scene with Sydney FC and was the youngest player selected in the Australian 2006 World Cup squad, attracting serious suitors from Europe.
The likes of Blackburn Rovers, Manchester City and Arsenal were all credited with an interest in Milligan, however his lack of British heritage – allied with Australia’s FIFA ranking at the time – meant he would not have been eligible for a switch.
Just 12 months ago he was denied a work permit to join Bolton Wanderers.
Although there was a sense of deja vu when his clearance to sign for Hibs moved at a snail’s pace, he is finally ready to make an impact on these shores.
“After my medical I thought things would progress quite quickly to join Hibs, but my record with visas for the UK is not great,” he smiled ruefully.
“There are not many Australians who don’t have that European or UK heritage so when I was younger it was a little bit more difficult to take this step, but that is just football and everything happens for a reason.
“I have had some wonderful years playing in Asia, especially in Japan, and in Australia. I’m ready for my next challenge now.
“I’m not as young as I used to be but I still want to learn. I thought I could learn here, that this was a place where I could face a new challenge. I need to be continually tested. The gaffer [Neil Lennon] will do that and this league will do that.”
Milligan’s last competitive outing coming in the 2-0 defeat against Peru in Russia, bringing the curtain down on his FOURTH World Cup with Australia.
Despite failing to register a victory in the showpiece, he counts the 2018 edition as the most ‘enjoyable’ he has been a part of – and has confirmed he has no intention of calling time on his international career.
“After the World Cup I sat down, first and foremost, with my wife,” he revealed. “I have been in the set-up now for 13 years and the travelling does take its toll.
“We sat down and had a very honest talk, both spoke about what we wanted, and my wife told me I’d be crazy if I was to walk away from it now. Especially starting this new adventure here at Hibs, it has given me a fresh look at football and a fresh start.”
Indeed, Milligan was part of Arnold’s first training camp in charge of the Socceroos in Turkey last week – joining Hearts left-back Ben Garuccio in the squad. The pair will come up against each other on derby day, while Oliver Bozanic could also line up for the Jambos.
“There’s no holding back when Australians face Australians,” he smiled. “I don’t think any friendships will be an influence. If anything, it’ll add a bit of extra spice to it for us.
“Australians are all very, very competitive beasts and, while we are close when we’re away, there’s nothing better when you’re living in a foreign country when you get to face up against and beat a fellow countryman.”