ALAN TEMPLE – @CCP_Sport
JAMIE MACLAREN has revealed that he is even on the same wavelength as Flo Kamberi when it comes to holidays – after bumping into the Swiss striker on a beach in Dubai.
However, the Hibs star feared he would be denied a dream reunion with his strike-partner on the pitch following weeks of fraught negotiations.
Maclaren, 25, was nothing short of a revelation for Hibs last term after joining the club on loan from Darmstadt in January, scoring eight goals in 15 games, including a hat-trick in the 5-5 against Rangers on the final day of the season and memorable efforts against Hearts and Celtic.
His form earned him a place in Bert van Maarwijk’s Socceroos squad for the World Cup, albeit belatedly after initially being omitted from the roster of 23.
However, his success served to make it even more challenging for Hibs to bring him back to the capital, with interest from mainland Europe and big spending A-League outfit Melbourne Victory giving Darmstadt pause for thought as they sought a return for their investment.
The player’s desire was always to come back to Scotland – his father, Donald, hails from Edinburgh – and he got his wish earlier this month when he penned a season-long loan.
Maclaren explained: “The longer it went, the more I knew I wanted to come to Hibs. It took some time for that to happen, but that’s life in football. Did I doubt it would happen? Yes, 100 per cent. There were so many discussions.
“Don’t get me wrong, during the World Cup I was focused on Australia but in the back of your mind you are always thinking ‘are they [Darmstadt] going to ask for a bigger price?’
“Discussions took place and I had some really honest conversations with [manager] Dirk Schuster and he was very good with me. He told me I was wanted but that it was ultimately my decision, as long as it works for both parties.
“Some A-League clubs were in touch with Darmstadt but, as the player, you always have the final say. I went with my heart. It’s a huge year and I wouldn’t want to be anywhere other than here – it feels like I’ve never been away.”
Although Maclaren is contracted to Darmstadt until the summer of 2020, it is understood Hibs could make the switch permanent at the end of the season for a fee in the region of £400,000.
That will seem like a steal if he can rekindle his remarkable rapport with Kamberi in attack. The duo, who both arrived on loan during the winter transfer window, struck up an astonishing understanding straight off the bat and proceeded to find the net a combined 17 times.
Maclaren laughed: “At the end of last season we didn’t know if we would see each other or play together again – then we bumped into each other straight away in Dubai! So that was quite funny.
“When he signed for Hibs again and was flicking me messages all summer to say ‘are you coming back?’ I had to keep telling him that my situation wasn’t as clear-cut as his!
“Once I did sign, it was nice to see all the boys again. You can’t take for granted the sort of dressing room we have – seeing the smiles from the boys on the first day again – and it’s a good feeling. But I definitely have that special connection with Flo.”
While Maclaren was being badgered by Kamberi, that was nothing compared to the daily pleas on Twitter from Hibees desperate to see him pull on a green jersey again after becoming an immediate fans’ favourite last season.
He continued: “It was nice to look on my social media and see all the tweets, all the supporters writing ‘announce Maclaren’. Those are the little one per cent things that bring you back. It was happening all summer!
“As soon as I scored the hat-trick against Rangers in the 5-5 game, it was a quick goodbye. I left that night to go on holiday, as I didn’t originally make the World Cup squad. I just switched off straight away and tried to deal with disappointment on the beach.
“So it was nice to hear all that stuff from the fans while I was away, and the reception I got last weekend against Motherwell was hard to explain. Goosebump moments.”
Maclaren has enjoyed cameos against Motherwell and in Thursday night’s nerve-shredding 0-0 draw against Molde in the Europa League but, as he gradually approaches the peak of his powers, is pushing for a maiden start of the campaign against St Johnstone today.
That would leave him primed to lead the line next week as Lennon’s men attempt to finish the job in Norway.
Maclaren added: “I feel I’m at 90 per cent and I will know when I’m at 100. I had a holiday and three weeks’ training, whereas you need a four-to-five week foundation. But I’m not far off it and hopefully be involved on Sunday.”