IT may have seemed as though fate was directing Jamie Maclaren back to Easter Road. Desperate Hibs fans were inundating him with tweets and then he bumped into strike partner Florian Kamberi in Dubai. But the Australian international admits there were moments when he feared he would be denied his dream return to Edinburgh.
The 25-year-old was a revelation for Hibs last term after joining the club on loan from Darmstadt in January,
Maclaren’s form was sufficient to earn 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 this month when he penned a season-long loan.
“The longer it went, the more I knew I wanted to come to Hibs,” Maclaren said. “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.
“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.”
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.
“Whether it becomes permanent is out of my control, but I have 12 months of really solid football ahead of me. I just want to be successful at this club and I can really sense something positive ahead,” he said.
While Maclaren’s patience may have been tested by the saga surrounding his future, the Hibs faithful were also going through the wringer as they pleaded with the marksman to sign up for a second spell in Edinburgh.
“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 the 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; goose-bump moments.”
Maclaren’s return to Easter Road sees him reunited with Kamberi, reprising arguably the most potent partnership in Scottish football in the second half of last season. Indeed, it appears that, even when it comes to holiday destinations, the pair are on the same wavelength.
“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 in Dubai! So that was quite funny,” Maclaren said. “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, it’s a good feeling. But I definitely have that special connection with Flo.”
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 fitness, he is pushing for a maiden start of the campaign against St Johnstone today.
That would leave him primed to lead the line as Neil 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 will be involved on Sunday.”