Beni Baningime reveals secret behind his first Hearts goal, Everton text message and Barrie McKay jibes
After peeling him off the ceiling, Beni Baningime speaks excitedly about what may transpire over the coming weeks. His football career is finally taking off after years of torture.
He is a first-team regular with Hearts, a club close to securing European football and chasing the prestige of Scottish Cup success. The midfielder scored not only his first goal in maroon during Saturday’s quarter-final against St Mirren, but his first of any kind at professional level.
It’s been a long wait for this kind of intense anticipation. Baningime is 23 and has only just completed his 41st competitive match as a footballer. Years of unsuccessful loans and injuries at former club Everton have finally given way to prosperity during his maiden campaign in Scotland.
It would be a stretch to re-brand him a goalscoring midfielder but the scamper into the six-yard box on Saturday night was very deliberate. It brought a first bout of goal euphoria, a beaming smile and a phone emitting smoke due to all the congratulatory texts.
“I’ve seen the ball land there a few times in the last few games, so I thought I’d try to get in the box. I’ve seen it happening and I said to myself: ‘You need to try and make it.’ I had been hovering at the edge of the box before but it wasn’t working,” admitted the Congolese, speaking exclusively to the Evening News.
“I’m just glad it fell there, a little toe poke and it was a great feeling. It was a simple little goal. That’s what I was waiting for. Hopefully there are many more. It’s one of the best feelings you can have as a footballer. You can win tackles and everything but to get a goal in a cup quarter-final is a great feeling.
“It’s my first professional goal. My last one was years ago. I never scored for Everton at first-team level. The crazy thing is, I’ve probably only played about 40 games in my first-team career. That’s not a bad ratio but there’s more expectation now. I’m just happy to score.
“My phone was blowing up after the game. My Mum, my Dad, everyone. I rarely score so they are all going crazy. I speak to Mark Moran [Everton recruitment analyst] a lot. I’ve known him since I was a kid. He texted me because he watches the games so it was great to hear from him.”
He can now invite them all to Hampden Park for next month’s semi-final. “That’s an unbelievable feeling, there's nothing like it. We have to concentrate on the league for now. I need to take it one game at a time. If I get too into it, I’ll get too excited for the games.”
The cheesy grin reappears again. There is a light-hearted side to all of this as well. Hearts’ most creative force this season is undoubtedly the winger Barrie McKay, who has had to watch Baningime and Cammy Devlin both score from central midfield in recent weeks while he awaits his first goal for the Edinburgh club.
“That’s all I’m saying. Barrie McKay needs to face it up,” laughed Baningime. “I’m really close with him so I was taking the mickey out of him. Hopefully he can get his first goal but we already know what he brings to the team with his creativity. He is a great player. I’ll let him breathe.
“He almost doesn’t need to score with the amount he is creating. Some of the things he does, it’s class the way he glides about.”
The camaraderie, regular games and quest for success are some of the main reasons Baningime opted to leave Everton for Hearts. Even in his most optimistic state of mind, even he could not have envisaged a season like this.
Nothing is achieved yet but the next two months hold opportunities for the current Tynecastle squad to go down in club folklore. Third place in the Premiership coupled with a Scottish Cup win would be historic.
“We are very close to getting third place in the league, which is exactly what we want,” said Baningime. “I think we have to push ourselves right through. As the gaffer said, very few teams in Hearts’ history have done this. We could be one of them. We have the ability to do it in that dressing room.
“Even with so many injuries like John Souttar, Josh Ginnelly, Cammy Devlin and the others, we had the confidence that we could win on Saturday. That’s where we are as a team.
“We’ve kind of found ourselves again. Last time I spoke to you [last month] we were almost a little bit down. I feel we’ve picked ourselves up again and now we need to push right to the end.”
It is a fair bit more than he expected already, fully justifying the choice to move to Scotland. Everything is coming together for Baningime and he certainly didn’t anticipate joining Hearts to be so potentially rewarding.
“I’m not sure, you know. I didn’t play football for three years. Coming here, this is one of the hardest leagues I’ve played in. The physicality, the pace, the work rate and the quality. There are some great players in Scotland.
“I think my first game in Scotland against Celtic gave me confidence I could do it. I haven’t surprised myself because I do believe in my own ability, but how the team has been playing has made it a lot easier for me to make this impact.
“I’d probably say I’m a little bit surprised at how it’s gone overall.”