Lee Johnson's tongue-in-cheek valuation of Rocky Bushiri as Hibs defender changes manager's opinion

Lee Johnson didn’t fancy Rocky Bushiri when he arrived in the summer, but the Belgian defender has won him round. The Hibs boss admits he has changed his mind, joking that he wouldn’t even sell the centre-back for £10m now.

The 22-year-old has started the last two matches flanked by Ryan Porteous and Paul Hanlon in the middle of a back three, a defensive set up which seems to suit him. Bushiri played well against St Johnstone and was man of the match against St Mirren with arguably his best performance since arriving at the club in January.

Bushiri missed two months of the season after picking up an injury in training in late August, but has returned in good shape and in excellent form. Johnson and his coaching staff have been working on his decision-making and fitness. The manager now hopes he can get a run of games under his belt.

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“When I walked through the door he was one that I was more than happy to move him on, and now I wouldn’t let him go for £10million,” Johnson joked. “I’ve been very impressed with him. A couple of weeks into pre-season we gave him simple rules to which he has to adhere, in terms of his defending. In the past, when I watched him, I felt he was too rash in his decision-making, but we have drilled him and he has been a good student, really willing to learn.”

Rocky Bushiri was outstanding against St Mirren, earning the man of the match award for his performance. Picture: Paul Devlin / SNS

After an initial six-month loan spell from Norwich City, Bushiri signed a three-year deal with the club in the summer. Johnson, however, wasn’t convinced. His initial analysis was that Bushiri was too rash and too injury prone to achieve the level of performance and consistency he expected. Bushiri made a good start to the season at a time when Hanlon was recuperating from knee surgery in the summer, although four yellow cards in seven games in July and August perhaps reinforced the manager’s initial opinion. Bushiri himself wanted to stay but then picked up an injury, backing up another reservation that Johnson already had about the player.

“I’ve mentioned it before, but when I looked back at his career history somebody told me that in something like two years he hadn’t trained on three consecutive days on the spin,” the manager explained. “He hasn’t had that consistency of team selection, of coaching, or understanding the basics of defending. But what an athlete. Let me tell you, you would not want to go near him, whether that be in five-a-sides or an SPFL match because he is so strong. He can just maul people, just with his frame and his aura sometimes. He’s good on the ball and he’s an athlete.”

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Bushiri came in for some criticism last season, but his two most recent displays have been far more assured. He read the game superbly against St Mirren, made good decisions, used his physicality when required and was tidy in possession.

He made a promising start to his career after coming through the ranks at K.V. Oostende, earning a Belgium’s Under-21 call-up and a move to Norwich. But three loan spells back in Belgium followed his move to England. Johnson is now hoping his coaching can finally bring out the best in Bushiri for Hibs. Consistency is key.