Neil Lennon sees echoes of Chelsea World Cup winner N’Golo Kante in ‘omnipresent’ Belgian Stephane Omeonga



HIBERNIAN head coach Neil Lennon has underlined the similarities between loan capture Stephane Omeonga and World Cup winner N’Golo Kante after expressing surprise that the capital club were able to snap up the Genoa starlet.

Omeonga, 22, has joined the Easter Road outfit on a six-month deal from the Serie A outfit, arriving with a laudable pedigree of 20 games in Italy’s top-flight and five caps for Belgium at under-21 level.

And Lennon could barely contain his excitement at the prospect of seeing his combative youngster in action, comparing his tireless work ethic, tactical intelligence and comfort on the ball to Chelsea’s French superstar.

“He’s a bit like [N’Golo] Kante,” said Lennon. “He gets around the pitch and, although he’s diminutive in size, he’s strong and reads the game well. He’s really effervescent, he doesn’t stop running and tactically he is very good.

“I don’t want to build him up, saying ‘I’ve got the new Kante’, but there are similar attributes there. The kid has a great attitude and work ethic and I like that about him.

“He has good pedigree and the footage we have watched is against the likes of Inter Milan and Juventus. And, although the game might be a bit different in Scotland, these are big, athletic, strong guys.

“I’m surprised that we got him but very, very pleased. Hopefully, this can be a new chapter in his career and he can enjoy it and make us better.”

Allied with the similarly diminutive Ryan Gauld and Stevie Mallan in the heart of midfield, Lennon joked that he is in danger of assembling Hibs’ answer to the Seven Dwarves.

Nevertheless, he is hopeful it will prove a fairytale combination.

“Stephane might not have the physical presence, but he is omnipresent at times,” continued Lennon. “He pops up here and there, and you think ‘where did he come from?’ He handles the ball well and covers the ground well and reads the game.

“He is always involved and I think he’ll bring the best out in others, as will Ryan Gauld. They’ll get the creative juices flowing. I’m going to have a team from the Seven Dwarves by the look of it! Although I’m more like the Big Bad Wolf!

“It takes a lot to get me excited at my age but we like his qualities and his attitude to the game, his energy and I I think he will be a good addition. We were looking for a bit more pace and energy in the midfield area and I think his qualities will help the likes of Stevie Mallon, [Vykintas] Slivka and [Marvin] Bartley.”

Lennon insists he has no qualms about throwing Omeonga in at the deep end when Hibs visit Fir Park for what promises to be a tough-tackling contest on a bitterly cold Lanarkshire evening against Motherwell.

“The British game is different from Serie A and although he has played at a brilliant level, he may take a bit of time to adapt to the physicality of the game here – or he may take to it like a duck to water,” added Lennon, who confirmed that the Hibees are no closer to securing the early arrival of Scott Allan from Celtic this month.

“Looking at him in training he has looked absolutely fine and he knows what is required. He is an intelligent boy and speaks three or four languages, and you don’t need to give him to many instructions and he seems to understand what you are asking him to do which is good.”

The senior team are getting old! Stephane Omeonga reveals Belgium dream

While Omeonga may have fallen out of favour at Genoa for the moment, his aspirations remain lofty.

He is determined to be part of the Belgium Under-21 squad for the European Championships this summer and, from there, is adamant he can make the grade at senior level with last year’s World Cup bronze medallists.

“For the moment, I just think about the Euros (under-21s) in the summer,” said Hibs’ latest winter arrival. “I want to be in that team. I cannot take the risk to not play and not make that tournament. It’s a big thing in a career.

“So I will give my best every day in training and in every game to make that squad.

“It’s very exciting. The senior team are getting old, you know? [Moussa] Dembele is moving to China, he’s a midfielder – so there is some space! I have to think about it in my move. That’s why I made the choice to come here.

“I have faith that I can make that. I don’t see why I can’t be in that squad. If you don’t have ambition, don’t play football.”