Scottish Cup hero Niklas Gunnarsson has revealed how he turned down the offer of a three-year deal with Hibs in a bid to further his international ambitions.
The Norwegian defender signed a six-month loan contract to join the Easter Road outfit at the beginning of the year, making his debut in a 2-0 win over Raith Rovers at Stark’s Park, a victory which began the Capital club’s historic journey to Hampden where they ended a 114-year wait to lift the trophy.
He featured throughout the cup campaign, playing his part in the stunning comeback from 2-0 down away to Hearts to force a replay which was won, the quarter-final replay success in Inverness and the final victory over Rangers itself.
In an exclusive interview with the Evening News, the 25-year-old, who had already been capped by his country at Under-23 level, disclosed that while Hibs were keen to keep him in Edinburgh, he felt the fact many of his 15 appearances for the club had been from the bench would hinder his hopes of advancing his international career.
He said: “That amazing weekend when we won the cup and then paraded it through the streets of Edinburgh with so many people on the streets was unbelievable.
“It was a fantastic time but at the end of the open-top bus ride I got a phone call telling me I had been named in the Norwegian squad which was to play friendlies against Portugal, Iceland and Belgium as they prepared for their Euro 2016 campaigns.
“I did have an offer from Hibs. I’d spoken to them and been offered a three-year contract to stay at Easter Road. I had a great time in Edinburgh but, as a football player, you want to play more. I wanted to be playing 80 or 90 per cent of matches, not just 60 or 70 per cent and I was told if I wanted to be part of the national set-up I had to be playing regularly.”
Having already spent a spell on loan with Swedish side Elfsborg before coming to Hibs, Gunnarsson opted for Stockholm-based Djurgardens where he played in every game in the season just ended having agreed a two-and-a-half year contract.
He said: “It’s been a great time for me personally. When I arrived at the club we were 15th in the Allsvenskan but finished the season seventh. I’ve not only played every game but I’ve been playing centre-half which, I believe, is my strongest position compared to right back.
“Having won the Scottish Cup with Hibs, I also thought it would be difficult to achieve anything bigger in Edinburgh. I also wanted to be closer to my family. These were the reasons I chose Stockholm.”