Work permit joy for Hibs clears way for Benji signing

HIBS today revealed they are to sign Moroccan star Abdessalam Benjelloun after finally securing a work permit for the 21-year-old striker.

Benjelloun has been training at Easter Road for the past ten weeks as the club has cut through a swathe of red tape to secure his signature on a long-term contract.

The final piece of the jigsaw was put in place yesterday as chairman Rod Petrie and manager Tony Mowbray pleaded Benjelloun's case before a Football Review Panel at Hampden.

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And today Mowbray admitted he was "excited" at the prospect of having "Benji" - as he has been nick-named by his new team-mates - in a green and white shirt, revealing that he'll immediately join the first-team squad.

Benjelloun has played through the age levels for Morocco, culminating in the World Under-20 Championships in Holland last summer in which his country was beaten for third place in a play-off with Brazil.

He actually received a call-up for Morocco's full squad but was forced to pull out through injury, a complication in securing a work permit being that he hadn't played in 75 per cent of his country's recent international matches.

But, at the Hampden hearing, Petrie and Mowbray underlined Benjelloun's talent. Mowbray said: "You have to remember that Morocco are 25 places ahead of Scotland in the current FIFA rankings and the fact he's played for his country at Under-18 and Under-19 shows he has a decent pedigree.

"We've been trying to put things in place for a while and thankfully for us things went well yesterday, it would have been very disappointing both for the club and Benji, having had ten weeks out of his life training with us, had our case failed." And Mowbray revealed how Benjelloun has fitted in well to the young Easter Road dressing room.

He said: "He has impressed both by his football ability and his ability to integrate perfectly into our structure.

"He has a happy, smiling face, he's very respectful and everyone gets on with him, he's right for our dressing room.

"Our players respect his talent.We have some decent Scottish players and when he doesn't look out of place among the Scott Browns, Kevin Thomsons and Steven Whittakers you know he is at a decent level."

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Benjelloun will return to Morocco - where he played with Moghreb Fes - to tie up a few loose ends before returning to the Capital where he will immediately set about forcing his way into Mowbray's first-team plans.

He said: "He'll be back early next week and possibly play in a reserve game the following week.

"He's set up and ready to go, he will be in the squad competing for a place like everyone else.

"I am excited about him, he will be a good signing for us, he brings further competition and hopefully his arrival will give us a wee lift."

Asked what kind of striker Benjelloun was, Mowbray said: "He's not of Chris Killen's size or stature but he is a very strong lad.

"We'll have to get him up to the demands of the Scottish game.

"But he turns people either side, shoots with both feet, he can dribble past opponents and is very aware with the ball at his feet.

"The fact he's been willing to spend ten weeks in Edinburgh on what was something of a gamble for him shows that he also feels he has a future at our club."

Meanwhile, Mowbray expects to field more or less the same side which lost to Celtic last weekend when Hibs travel to face Motherwell at Fir Park tomorrow in the SPL.