He stands barely 5ft 7in tall and tips the scales at little more than ten stones, but today Tom Taiwo insisted he’s more than ready to throw his weight around and prove the adage that good things come in small packages.
“Whole-hearted, energetic and a simple player who doesn’t over-complicate things,” was how Hibs boss Pat Fenlon’s final signing of the summer described his attributes, before adding: “The fans can expect 100 per cent in every game whether I am playing well, badly or indifferently.”
As such the 22-year-old would appear to tick all the boxes as far as Fenlon is concerned, the Irishman having spent the summer pursuing “the right type of character” in his search to find the players he believes can set the Easter Road outfit on the path to where he and everyone connected with the club believes they should be following two years of disappointment.
Fenlon’s policy has been one of patience, a determination not to succumb to the temptation of making signings purely to satisfy the supporters’ craving for transfer activity. New faces have arrived slowly but surely as he’s put together the pieces of the jigsaw, with Taiwo becoming his ninth capture in what has become an impressive strengthening of his squad.
To that end, Taiwo epitomises the approach Fenlon has adopted, the Yorkshire-born midfielder admitting he’d been pleasantly surprised to discover he’d been on Hibs’ radar for months, rather than simply being snapped up as a free agent by a manager seeking to spend the last few pennies of his transfer budget.
He said: “That’s nice to hear, no matter what level you are playing at, players want to be wanted and like to fit into the manager’s plans. For him to have come out and said that is good, now it is up to me to repay that faith.”
It would be fair to say, however, that Fenlon’s bid to lure Taiwo north could well have proved fruitless had Carlisle and Bradford City, a club based not too far away from his hometown of Pudsey, been able to agree a transfer fee.
However, when that proposed deal fell through, Taiwo admitted he was blown away by what he found waiting for him in Edinburgh, comparing the facilities on offer both at Easter Road and Hibs’ East Mains Training Centre favourably to those he once enjoyeed at Chelsea where he rubbed shoulders with the likes of John Terry, Frank Lampard, Ashley Cole, Didier Drogba and Joe Cole. Former England Under-17 internationalist Taiwo headed for the bright lights of London in a controversial move along with fellow Leeds kid Michael Woods in 2008, Chelsea paying £5 million in compensation for the pair after Elland Road chairman Ken Bates threatened to take them to court for allegedly “tapping up” the youngsters.
It’s an episode Taiwo is reluctant to dwell upon, describing it as being well documented although he did say: “It was a package that was agreed on. I am definitely not a £2.5 million player – but I would like to be in future.”
At Stamford Bridge, though, he witnessed the riches playing for such a club could provide while revealing that, despite their obvious wealth, the first team players were anything but aloof at their £20m Cobham base. He said: “They drove flash cars while I walked to work and wore flash watches and were all superstars in their own right but they were down-to-earth people.
“We trained with the first team on several occasions, we ate with them and they created a famly atmosphere where everyone was deemed equal. The big stars were fantastic with us young lads although if anyone got above their station they brought you back down with a stern word or two.”
Again Taiwo draws a favourable comparison to what he has found during his first week with Hibs. He said: “I was invited up here to meet the manager and once I saw the stadium, the infrastructure here and the positive start to the season the club have made, it was a no-brainer, simple as that.
“What Hibs have at East Mains would make most Championship clubs and some Premier League teams very envious. I came up here with no pre-conceptions, I was very open-minded, but what Hibs have is a great place to come and work every day which is important to a player, you want to be waking up every morning and looking forward to going training.”
A broken leg two days before he was due to make his youth debut for Chelsea saw Taiwo farmed out on loan to Port Vale and then Carlisle, with the move to Brunton Park being made permanent and leading to some 150 games for the Cumbrian side.
Taiwo arrives in Edinburgh to find the likes of Paul Hanlon and David Wotherspoon ages with him and with virtually as many first-team appearances to their names.
Taiwo, though, is one to look to the future rather than the past, insisting he has no regrets as to the path his career has taken and adamant he doesn’t wonder “what if” as regards his time with Chelsea.
He said: “Chelsea were fantastic to me but who is to say I wouldn’t have suffered a worse injury had I stayed at Leeds or had the chance to play for a good club in Carlisle and now Hibs.
“I have to be grateful for the cards I’ve been dealt, I’ve played 150 first team games by the age of 22 and there’s not too many boys can say that.”
Even so, Taiwo revealed he’d been surprised to learn just how young some of his new team-mates have turned out to be, dubbing the emerging trio of Ross Caldwell, Danny Handling and Sam Stanton the “Three Amigos.”
“I thought the three of them were 20 or so,” he said, “But to discover they are only 18 bodes well for the future given we are second in the league with youngsters such as them in the squad.”
Hibs, of course, have the steadying influence of senior professionals such as skipper James McPake, Alan Maybury, Tim Clancy and Shefki Kuqi, as Fenlon has sought to balance his squad with experience and youth, Taiwo revealing that as a Leeds United fan he was once too afraid to ask for the autograph of one-time Elland Road star Maybury.
He said: “As a young lad I used to watch Alan in the first team. I can’t say he was my favourite player, it was Lucas Radebe at the time, but he was around at a time when Leeds were bringing a lot of youngsters through.
“It’s a bit weird to now be sharing a dressing-room with him but I had the same thing at Carlisle with Ian Harte. When you are young you look on these guys as being some sort of action hero, a superstar and don’t realise they are human, they go home and have sausage and mash for their tea.
“But when you meet them they have no pretentions, they are normal people. I never asked Alan for his autograph as a kid, I was too timid and probably now he won’t give me it.”