Jamie Maclaren’s time with Brisbane Roar between 2015 and 2017 had the young striker primed for another crack in Europe having returned home to Australia after ending four years abroad at Blackburn Rovers in 2013.
Having struggled to tie down a regular starting place at Perth Glory, the Sunbury boy took Brisbane by storm, scoring a huge 40 goals in just 53 games.
His form in those two seasons earned him a move to 2.Bundesliga side Darmstadt, but despite early promise, things did not quite work out for the now 25-year-old there.
Maclaren – now back in Australia at Melbourne City – played just seven games all up for Die Lillen in two years, which also contained two loan moves away to Scottish side Hibernian.
The reason for those struggles? In part, Maclaren revealed on Wednesday’s Daily Football Show, that Darmstadt were intent on using the player as an attacking-midfielder.
With such an impressive goals tally in the A-League – and through basic scouting – it should have been clear where Maclaren’s strength lied: up top.
“I learned in Germany that they probably didn’t do their research enough on me because when I rocked up there, they tried to play me as an attacking-midfielder,” Maclaren said.
“Everybody that knows me knows I’m a box player, and as soon as you take away my main asset, sniffing around the box and finding myself in positions that defenders can’t track me.
“That was the six-month period where I found myself and really found that I’m going to stick to my guns and stick up for myself and say ‘I’m a striker, I’m not an attacking-midfielder’.”
That is when Hibs stepped in through boss Neil Lennon, offering Maclaren an out from Germany and a way back to the No.9 role.
Maclaren’s initial stint at Easter Road was fruitful. It heralded eight goals in 15 games, including strikes against the big two, Celtic and Rangers.
That was in the second half of the 2017-18 season, and the numbers proved sufficient to earn a second call to Edinburgh for the 2018-19 campaign and, ultimately, a late inclusion into the Socceroos’ World Cup squad under Bert van Marwijk.
It was not as good, however, and Maclaren scored only once in 12 games, claiming two assists on the side before his loan was cut short and City came calling.
Still, playing in Edinburgh held significant sentimental value for Maclaren, even though some in his family may have preferred for his allegiances to fall with cross-town rivals Hearts.
“Thankfully, I had the backing of Neil Lennon, who called me and said ‘I want to bring you in January and bring you into this Hibs side that is already a great side but just needs that box player, that box striker’,” Maclaren recalled.
“I went to Hibernian and really found my feet in a city I’m comfortable with. My dad was born there, although my family are Hearts fans … representing that club and that city was something I really take pride in.
“My dad was so proud. He was sitting in the crowd watching me score against Celtic and that was a big moment, and scoring against Rangers at Ibrox as well.”
Fast-forward to April 2019 with City, and Maclaren is a key ingredient in their push to consolidate a place in the A-League’s top six, three weeks shy of finals.
Their next fixture at home to Adelaide United will have a major say on where the team finishes the campaign, and which opponent they will run into come the end of the month.
A win will absolutely secure City a place in the top six, and perhaps more importantly, will elevate them above the Reds into fifth and quite possibly Wellington Phoenix as well, in fourth.
Maclaren called on City’s fans to fill the AAMI Park stands and help Warren Joyce’s side across the line.
“We know that with two home games left for us, it’s so important to have that strong mentality going into games, especially at home,” he said.
“We need to have that upper edge and I’ve been trying to urge the fans to come out and support us because it’s an important time for us.
“We really need the fans to be behind us. Like you saw against Brisbane, on our night, we can really do some damage.”