IMPROVEMENT is always on Juwon Oshaniwa’s mind. He stands chatting at Riccarton whilst colleagues come and go around him preparing for training.
Their opportunity will arrive soon enough as the club return to European football in less than two months’ time. Oshaniwa’s excitement at that prospect is palpable but he is equally focused on enhancing his own game. His first season in Scotland is drawing to a close and he feels he has progressed. Continual development is something he strives for.
The Ladbrokes Premiership is an entirely different environment to the Ligat Ha’Al in Israel, where the left-back played with FC Ashdod until last summer. He has taken time to adjust to Scottish football’s physicality and feels he is a better player for the move to Hearts.
“I’m always a better player. If I’m not a better player, I wouldn’t be a champion of Africa, I wouldn’t have caps for my country, playing at the highest level of football,” said Oshaniwa in an exclusive interview with the Evening News. “That attracts many teams towards me, to come here, that attracts people to focus attention on me. I know I’m always a better player and I know God has deposited something inside me which is talent in football.
“There is always room for improvement. If not, Messi, Ronaldo and all the great players wouldn’t be playing under the supervision of a coach. They would just set up themselves. For you to get better, life is all about a learning process every day. You’ve got your philosophy, I’ve got mine. You must focus your attention on what you do best and open up your heart and mind towards improving. Before you know it, you become better.”
Part of his education has been to fight for a starting place in Robbie Neilson’s Hearts team. Oshaniwa arrived as a reputable Nigerian internationalist who played every minute of the Super Eagles’ 2014 World Cup campaign in Brazil. At Tynecastle, he has had Igor Rossi and Jordan McGhee competing for the left-back slot. A couple of red cards haven’t helped his cause, but he has still managed 22 appearances so far with three games of the season remaining.
Even whilst out of the side, the 25-year-old didn’t lose confidence in himself. “Not at all. I’ve played more competitive football than this but sometimes football is like this,” he said. “When you come to a new place, a lot of circumstances come up. What makes you a good player is adapting to all that.
“The league is not a bad one at all. There is lots of fighting and it’s different football to where I’m coming from. You just keep focused and keep confidence in yourself, don’t allow anyone to chase away your confidence whatever your doing. Anything you do, you shouldn’t lose your confidence.”
He was restored to the starting line-up against Celtic last weekend as the Glasgow club won 3-1 to virtually clinch the Premiership title. Tomorrow, Ross County are the visitors to Gorgie and Oshaniwa is again battling for inclusion with Rossi and McGhee. He is, to his credit, staying philosophical about the situation and seems to have no problem being patient.
“When you have a squad and everybody is doing well, you want to get into the team but you just have to wait,” he continued. “When the time comes, you get playing. You just keep doing what you know, don’t be distracted, don’t be discouraged, don’t be depressed. Eventually, you get your turn to play. Basically, that is what football is all about.”
Performing with consistency in Hearts’ next three matches against County, Aberdeen and St Johnstone would set the Nigerian up well for the summer. He will return to his homeland to visit family during a four-week close season break. Then come the Europa League qualifiers.
Oshaniwa is desperate to be involved at European level having never played in that arena. His time in Africa and Israel were important stages of his development but he knows the pressure and intensity of European matches are the ultimate test for any footballer.
Family comes first, though. “Ever since I came to Scotland I haven’t returned back home to see my people and my family. It’s going to be a time of relaxation once the season is finished, staying beside my family,” he explained.
“After a lot of work like we’ve had this season, you need to be around your family to get your head clear. Then you can return fresh. I’m looking forward to the last three games, to end the season well and then to enjoy my vacation with my family and loved ones.”
Taking momentum into the qualifiers is probably Hearts’ biggest motivation for these last three games. They are unlikely to catch Aberdeen in second place, therefore carrying a positive ending through to next season has to be of utmost importance. Oshaniwa understands what is required.
“It’s important to end the season on a good note so that there is less pressure when we come back,” he said. “When you win, it’s projected to the next game. When you’re doing well, you have a lot of positive interest on you. If you don’t have results, then you feel dejected.
“We go into every game to get the maximum three points but sometimes football is funny and luck is not on your side. We will address this weekend’s game against Ross County, then after that we will think about the next one, then after that we will think about the final one.”