Exclusive: Hibs award winner's leap of faith rewarded with solid landing

On solid ground - Obita is enjoying his Scottish adventure.On solid ground - Obita is enjoying his Scottish adventure.
On solid ground - Obita is enjoying his Scottish adventure. | SNS Group
Defender knows team ‘must be better’ after calamitous campaign

After taking a leap of faith and sticking the landing with something approaching aplomb, a rare example of sure-footedness at a club constantly hopping from one crisis to the next, Jordan Obita feels sufficiently grounded to talk about taking the next step. As a collective, all working together, he and his team-mates cannot possibly endure a repeat of his first season in Scottish football.

The Hibs left back, a fairly easy choice for not one but two Player of the Year awards handed out at last weekend’s slightly low-key dinner, is in the odd position of celebrating personal achievement while taking his share of responsibility for team shortcomings. But, overall, he’s happy with life in Edinburgh. As we spoke yesterday, sons Noah and Cole were just off to nursery, leaving Obita, wife Scarlet and baby Romi – whose arrival saw him miss a pre-Christmas trip to Dingwall for a game that ended up being postponed – to putter about and plan a family holiday in an ever-shorter close season.

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The former Reading, Oxford and Wycome Wanderers player, reflecting on the decision to move north last summer, admitted: “It was a big leap. I had heard a lot about coming up to Scotland. But it was a big decision, and it took me a couple of weeks to make my mind up.

“I had options to stay in England at my previous club, as well as one or two other clubs in England. And I’d never been away from home, really.

“But I fancied the challenge. I wanted to experience something different. And there was an appeal in playing against European teams, facing the Old Firm – and also the rivalry of a proper derby match. That interested me a lot.

“I’ve certainly not been disappointed by anything. The standard is really good, for starters, and I enjoy playing at this level. I’m also playing for a massive club. Hibs are such a big club, compared to the teams I played for down in England.

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“There is so much expectation. I didn’t know that before I came here. I honestly didn’t know how big of a club Hibs were.

“But since I’ve been here, just one season, I fully understand. No matter who you are playing, the fans want a result – and they want you to attack, to play good football.”

Thrown into a whirlwind start to last season, with Europa Conference League ties coming thick and fast, Obita had to adapt quickly, explaining: “The European games were great. And that was one of the attractions. Back in England, the only way into Europe is to finish top six in the Premier League. That obviously isn’t possible for a player in the Championship or League One.

“You can’t underestimate the appeal of playing in Europe. And I enjoyed it this season, I really did. That’s what made this season so disappointing, that we didn’t give ourselves a chance to qualify for Europe. That has to be our goal next season, absolutely. Because it’s a great experience.

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“The Edinburgh derby was great, too. I had never experienced like it before. Honestly, on the pitch, it was just crazy.

“I wouldn’t say it had the most quality of any of the games we played this season. But the atmosphere, the noise, the fact that it matters so much, the tension, it’s something you have to enjoy. I can’t wait to do it again next season – but this time get some wins.”

Obita signed a two-year contract when he joined the club last summer. And, although he was a Lee Johnson signing, Nick Montgomery quickly recognised his value – and rewarded him with an extended deal, running until 2026, back in March.

Admitting he’d been pleasantly surprised by that offer, the 30-year-old joked: “I hit a good patch of form, which always helps! My agent said there was a new contract being discussed – and Nick told me he was really pushing for it.

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“To have a manager showing so much faith in me after six months, offering me a brand new contract, was really pleasing. Once I signed that, I was desperate to pay back that respect and perform as well as I could, because he put so much faith in me.”

On being named Player of the Year and Players’ Player of the Year at the weekend, Obita admitted: “Obviously it was really nice to pick up a couple of awards, to be appreciated by my team-mates but also by the fans. To be honest, I can’t wait to try to kick on and achieve even more, personally, next year. You have to keep trying to improve.

“The key for me started with just getting into the team, which was never going to be easy, and cementing that spot at left back. Also the style of football we played, especially under Nick, really suited me. Playing that passing football, trying to do the right things, be attacking as much as possible, was ideal for me.

“From a team point of view, it was a difficult season. And it’s probably worth remembering that we were sitting up in third or fourth at one point, looking pretty good.

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“But we had a bad patch, which can happen, and that didn’t help us. After that, we just didn’t recover to perform as everyone probably expected.

“I genuinely believe that we can’t be any worse than that next season. And we must be better than that.

“You’ve got to nail down one of those European slots next season. That’s what we’re all playing for. We definitely don’t want to be in the bottom six again.

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“From our experience in the bottom half this year, it’s just not right. The games don’t feel that competitive, often two teams playing for nothing.

“You make that top six and you have so much to play for, competing for a European place, playing in bigger games against Hearts and the Old Firm. And we were close to that this year. It did feel like we had it within our reach at Motherwell. We need to be better next season, definitely.”