Beni Baningime: I'm in no rush to leave Hearts - we can topple Rangers and Celtic using Leicester example
He arrived at Hearts carrying big ambitions after growing up in one of the world’s biggest leagues. To Beni Baningime, targeting second or third place is pointless.
He speaks with an authority on this season’s aims which mirrors his command in the No.6 midfield role. At formative club Everton, he learned how to challenge teams with greater resources and fanbases. It’s a rather handy skill for Hearts’ current predicament.
The Edinburgh club are unbeaten sitting joint-second in the Scottish Premiership, a league often derided down south. Comments like “my Nan could win the Scottish league” are commonplace on social media in England. Baningime insists there is very little difference between Scotland’s top flight and its cash-dripping southern equivalent.
He is convinced there is sufficient talent at Riccarton to take on Rangers and Celtic, perhaps split them in the table, or even go one better and achieve the ultimate accolade.
“Should we limit our ambition? Not really. Leicester did it,” said Baningime, referring to Claudio Ranieri’s fairytale English title win in 2016. “I feel like sometimes that fear in your mind makes you want to settle for third. I think it’s really up to us.
“If we really believe in ourselves and we carry on working then we don’t know what the future holds. It’s exciting. There’s a buzz around the place. We just need to keep working hard and see what happens.
“Maintaining this is something we need to ask ourselves. Are we putting in the work, are we in the gym, are we bringing the intensity to training? “If we do that then I believe we can push ourselves as much as possible. But that’s on us, not anyone else, it’s just on us.”
No massive difference
Moving to Scotland back in July was a step into the unknown for the 23-year-old. He quickly felt comfortable in a league he stressed is comparable to the EPL.
“I don’t think there’s a difference, to be fair. A lot of people think there’s a massive difference. I don’t believe so,” said Baningime. “The difference is these players are more consistent and they consistently put in the work.
“The boys are doing that here, as you can see from the results and what we’re doing in training has really helped us in games. For me that’s the difference between really great players and the ones who fizzle out.
“Some get a little success and think, ‘okay, I’m going to chill out now’. That’s something my mum and dad, my family and God have instilled in me: No matter if things are going badly, which they were for three years, you carry on working.
“And when they are going well, which they are right now, you carry on working. That’s the biggest difference, really.”
Baningime is already enormously popular among Tynecastle supporters after demonstrating the very consistency he speaks of. He decided within minutes of his first Hearts training session that he would sign the three-year contract on offer.
“I came in on the Thursday and had my first training session and I thought: ‘I’m coming here.’ I knew straight away this was where I wanted to be,” he said.
“Because you don’t really watch the Scottish league as much, other than a few games, you don’t really know what to expect. I came in and saw the likes of John Souttar, Josh Ginnelly, all of the boys and realised this is a very good standard.
“So I wasn’t surprised, I just didn’t know what to expect. I knew we weren’t going to be one of the worst teams in the league. With the additions of Cammy Devlin and Barrie McKay and all of the boys, it’s really helped us. We’re a tight group and everyone tries to help everyone out.”
The Hearts manager Robbie Neilson told this newspaper just last month that fans should enjoy Baningime’s dominance while they can. The inference was that the player’s list of suitors would quickly grow and that keeping him in Gorgie may be difficult if a serious transfer offer arrived.
His profile has certainly risen sharply in just two months. “Yes, 100 per cent. For me it’s about concentrating on the game even though you know there is a lot of noise out there. I’ll just let my agent worry about that,” he smiled.
“That’s what I try to do, concentrate on my football and concentrate on achieving something here. I think a lot of people think I am going to be gone very quickly, but I want to establish something here, do something special here. And then whatever happens next, happens. That’s my mindset.”
One of his intentions is to ensure Hearts are properly compensated when he does leave. Baningime commented to sporting director Joe Savage that he would “make this club money” when he signed. His determination to repay Tynecastle management is one of many admirable traits in the Congolese player.
“I did say that to be fair. I believe in God and I believe that things happen for a reason,” he explained. “When I was training at Everton and the other places I went to [on loan], I felt I did well. But no-one gave me the chance.
“That’s completely fine, there’s a lot of great players at Everton. So in my head I knew if I am doing well there I am going to come here and hopefully I can get up and running.
“I think you have always got to have that confidence. It’s not arrogance because I have to put in the work, which a lot of people don’t see. It’s having that confidence in yourself that you are a good player.”