Niklas Gunnarsson has revealed how Celtic boss Ronny Deila gave his move to Hibs the thumbs-up – telling him he was joining a club which should be in the Premiership.
The 24-year-old defender had already made his mind up that he was swapping Scandinavian football for life in the Scottish Championship but nevertheless he turned to his fellow Norwegian for a word of advice.
The 24-year-old defender had already made his mind up that he was swapping Scandinavian football for life in the Scottish Championship, but nevertheless he turned to his fellow Norwegian for a word of advice.
The presence of Deila and midfielder Stefan Johansen has raised the profile of the Scottish game in Norway and, Gunnarsson revealed, that played a big part in opting for Hibs when a loan deal at Swedish side Elfsborg came to an end, even though they were keen for him to stay.
He said: “Hibs first came to me in October so it has been a long process, but finally I am here and I’m looking forward to playing. I don’t know how many times they came to watch me, but I know a scout came to see me a couple of times in Sweden and from there it happened very quickly.
“I’m very excited. It will be a new experience, so that’s good.”
While Gunnarsson has only experienced the top leagues in both Norway, where he is still under contract at Valerenga, and Sweden, he insisted he has no qualms about dropping into the second tier of Scottish football.
He said: “Football here in the UK is big in Norway, very big. The football mentality here is very nice to experience and the crowds and fans crate a good atmosphere. I wanted to try something new. I played four or five years in the top leagues in Norway and Sweden, so I wanted to see what the level is like here and what the experience will be like.
“I know Hibernian is a club that should be in the Premiership, but they have been in a tough period.”
And, he revealed, that belief was backed by Deila. He said: “I obviously know Ronny Deila and Stefan Johansen. I’ve met Ronny a couple of times and I’ve played against Stefan. I talked to Ronny about Hibs and he said very good things about the club, that they are a big club and they should be in the Premiership.
“When Deila and Stefan came to Celtic, the profile in Norway of Scottish football increased. Of course, before then Tore Andre Flo played for Rangers, but he wasn’t very good, as I remember. They bought him for a lot of money and he was amazing at Chelsea.
“I had made my mind up before I spoke to Ronny, I was already in Scotland when I called him, but I just wanted to hear what he thought about the club and he gave good references.”
Gunnarsson, who has won four caps at Under-23 level for Norway, has signed for Hibs until the end of the season, but, he insisted, he’s looking no further ahead, although Stubbs has disclosed there will be an option to make his move permanent if everything works out for both parties.
He said: “I’m here for six months and I will take it day by day. I am not stressing. If I perform well, that’s the most important thing. Then we will see what happens.
“But my first impression of Hibs is good. I like the team and all the players and I’m happy to be here. If both parties are happy, then there is an agreement.
“I’ve still got one-and-a-half years on my contract in Norway and it suits me fine to be here for six months. Elfsborg had the option to buy me, but it was a bit too much. They offered and it was not accepted, so I went back to Norway”
However, if Gunnarsson isn’t looking beyond the summer, he’s already putting long-term plans in place for the day he hangs up his boots, revealing he’s doing a bachelor degree in sports management.
He said: “I just want to do something besides football in the future. Sadly I can’t play football when I’m 50 so I’m taking some classes and I’ll be finished in one year. I’ve been doing it for two-and-a-half years.
“It’s an online course just for football players in Scandinavia. It’s not like the English Premier League when you can make £10 million or £15 million a year. It’s good to have something you can do in the future. The study is in Denmark and all the exams and everything is by Skype, so it suits me just fine.
“First and foremost I want to play football, but I just wanted to take classes so I have a degree in something when I’m finished instead of just being an ex-football player. We have a lot of spare time so this is instead of playing Fifa or sleeping. I did that for two years but then I thought ‘yeah, I can do school for two or three hours every day and that’s not much, I have the time’.
“It’s a very broad course. I can work in everything from the marketing section of a football club or hotel management. It’s all about hospitality services and management.”
In the meantime, the 6ft 2in defender – he can play anywhere across the back line – revealed Hibs fans can look forward to enjoying his trademark long throw. He said: “I can throw one or two metres inside the post and it’s normally a good weapon. It depends how the team wants to play. When I do the long throw we push all our big players forward.”