JOINING Hearts was intended to be Juwon Oshaniwa’s passport to European football – but he admits his immediate task is adapting to Scottish football.
Oshaniwa faces a fight to re-establish himself as Hearts’ first-choice left-back. He lost his place to 19-year-old Jordan McGhee last week after some unconvincing performances. It remains to be seen whether the Nigerian is reinstated following McGhee’s costly handball at Pittodrie.
He speaks candidly when asked about how he can improve and admits dealing with Scotland’s winter climate is more of a test than he expected. “It’s a big challenge because this is the first time I have played at this temperature level. It is very difficult, I must be frank about it,” he said.
“I must get myself adapted and get my head around it. As much as my mind is made up, I need to switch everything on to get myself adapted and used to the weather here. It is difficult but that is why I am a professional and playing at a bigger level. I must get myself switched on positively and go do what I know best.”
Was he disappointed being relegated to the substitutes’ bench against Aberdeen? “That isn’t something that really goes through my head. Not everybody can play and the decision has been taken by the gaffer. Everybody is set and prepared to play. I am just coming back from a hamstring problem.
“I played against Dundee and then against Motherwell in the terrible weather, so it’s okay. It’s normal that only 11 people can play but the decision needed to be taken for the betterment of the team and that is why I think it was done.
“I am so happy with my game but there is always room for improvement and betterment because better days lie ahead. I will keep working hard to get myself to my desired target. There are a lot of things I can improve on.”
If he can make the necessary adjustments to again become a first-choice pick then his European ambition could be realised – and tomorrow’s trip to McDiarmid Park carries major connotations for two clubs aiming for the Europa League.
St Johnstone are in fourth place and just one point behind Hearts, who occupy the Ladbrokes Premiership’s last Europa League spot. Qualification is not decided in December, of course, but there will be an element of pressure on the visitors in Perth – and Oshaniwa knows it.
The Nigerian signed for Hearts determined to propel his career to the next level by competing in Europe. At 25, he has achieved a fair deal already, including an Africa Cup of Nations winner’s medal and his well-documented World Cup appearances last summer. Leaving Israel’s FC Ashdod for Tynecastle was about one thing – European football.
Hearts have taken just two points from the last nine available in the league and are seven behind second-placed Aberdeen after losing at Pittodrie last week. Nonetheless, a win tomorrow will put a welcome four-point cushion between them and St Johnstone.
Having signed a three-year contract with a burning ambition to compete in Europe, Oshaniwa is eager to see his dream come to fruition. “I have won the African Nations Cup with my country, I have played in the World Cup, the biggest fiesta. I really aspire to see myself playing in European competition,” he said. “This is the reason I am here. I see myself and my career going from glory to glory here.
“I would like to see myself competing with other players in the European continent. I see myself achieving that with Hearts. Everything is possible, as long as we keep our heads focused collectively and individually and keep working hard.
“That is why this is a big game tomorrow. We fought tirelessly against Aberdeen up there. You could see the great job everybody did, even people on the bench and the fans who always stayed behind the team. We worked really hard because we know how important every game is in this league. We keep pressing until the end of the game and we will do this in every subsequent game.
“We know the importance of this game against St Johnstone so we will go there and give it all we’ve got. When I came here, I saw young talented players and more mature players. They have ambitions along with the management and technical crew. You can see it. It’s written all over them.
“You saw how the start of the season was. This is a team which has just come from the Championship and we are giving a serious fight at the top. We really want to be celebrated and compete in Europe next season.”
Oshaniwa didn’t play against St Johnstone on the opening day of the season at Tynecastle because international clearance for his transfer wasn’t completed. He watched the match from the stand as Hearts won 4-3 and noted the attacking threat of Tommy Wright’s team.
“I watched the game when we won at home. It was a massive three points but it was actually a difficult game,” he recalled. “St Johnstone, they are a good side and they are hard to play against. Now we play them away from home and it’s going to be a massive game.
“I have been working towards this with my colleagues and we are going to give the maximum. St Johnstone are one place behind us so we need to take at least a point up there. With all things being equal, we are up to the task. We are going out to give our best collectively to make sure we come out successful.”