Rocky Bushiri seeking continual improvement as Hibs defender states: 'I want to be better'

Rocky Bushiri lives by the mantra that we learn the most in difficult moments. He calls it experience, and believes it helps him improve.

He is speaking after playing in Hibs’ 4-1 victory over Bonnyrigg Rose in the Premier Sports Cup group stages – his third start in as many games since signing a permanent deal following a loan spell in the second half of last season.

"There were talks during the summer and I really wanted to stay,” he explains.

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"I felt really good in the team and with the board and like I said, I really wanted to stay and grow here, so I kind of knew I was coming back."

By the time the former Belgium under-21 cap returned to the Capital, there had been a change in manager and the man who gave him a footballing lifeline after several months without regular gametime had been replaced. Bushiri is phlegmatic about the switch.

"I'm not going to spend my whole career with one manager,” he reasons.

"I was really happy Shaun Maloney gave me this opportunity again to be back in the game but it's football. We all know managers come and go, and team-mates come and go."

Having played through the pain barrier at times last season, Bushiri is relieved to be fully fit and wants to make the most of it. With Darren McGregor winding down his career with a combined coaching role, Paul Hanlon currently recovering from an operation, and Paul McGinn departed, centre-halves are in short supply at Easter Road at the moment with Bushiri, Ryan Porteous, and newcomer Kyle McClelland getting gametime in the Premier Sports Cup matches so far.

Rocky Bushiri endured a tricky start to life at Hibs but is determined to keep improving

"I want to be better than last season, I want to be ready every game and not pick up any small injuries,” he states.

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"I want to be fully in the rhythm; I want to be able to go the full 90 minutes at the same intensity; keep clean sheets, and help the strikers and players in front of me to be better because of my performances."

He played his part in the 5-0 win against Clyde, keeping a clean sheet in his 45 minutes on the park, and played his part in a mostly decent defensive performance at New Dundas Park.

Bushiri insists a good performance was imperative after the aberration at Falkirk last week.

Bonnyrigg goalscorer Kevin Smith gets in between Hibs defenders Ryan Porteous and Rocky Bushiri at New Dundas Park. Picture: Joe Gilhooley LRPS
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"It was really important to give a response [after the Falkirk game] but we know the cup is always like this; you have strange, and difficult games.

"But the most important part was the win against Bonnyrigg so job done, and we move forward."

Speaking at Hibs’ pre-season training camp in Portugal, manager Lee Johnson explained that he didn’t want Bushiri trying to play a style of football that didn’t suit him.

"We have worked on his first touch to open up the options to the full-back, or rap it between the lines, or drop and drive. Simplifying his game,” he explained.

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Rocky Bushiri has started every Premier Sports Cup game so far

"We don’t want Rocky on the ball as much as we want Ewan Henderson on the ball. Rocky needs to just be the security, the protection, for the team. He is very keen to park his place and I’m very keen for him to park his place.”

Speaking to Bushiri about the new system he appears happier, and more confident in what is being asked of him.

“It's a new system, new for everyone, we want to recover the ball as high as possible.

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"This system needs a lot of energy and the League Cup games are still like pre-season so we are not all at the same physical level – but it's all good when you win.

"I think with this system I can really show my physicality because we need to go high, and I like to defend high and tight behind the man, so I'm enjoying this system.

"I worked hard during the summer to be ready for this season. It's an important season for me because in the past I had injuries.

Bushiri is injury-free and has been working hard since before pre-season in a bid to be at his best
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"Now I'm ready to work hard every game to be the best version of myself."

Earlier this summer it was claimed that Easter Road chief executive Ben Kensell had told fans at an event of Bushiri’s reaction to negative comments about him on social media.

The Hibs chief is reported to have said that the player had asked why the fans appeared to hate him.

Since that exchange was made public, the supporters have rallied behind Rocky. Songs were sung praising him in Portugal and there has been a lot of love for the 22-year-old.

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But the centre-back insists that any issues are in the past, instead choosing to focus on the future. The team’s performance didn’t help, he says, but he is channelling all his energy into being as good as he can be.

Even before the pre-season training camp in Portugal Bushiri was working hard individually in a bid to hit the ground running when the season resumed.

"It's behind us now. It was frustration with last season, it wasn't good enough,” he says, when asked about the supporters’ reaction then and now.

"When you're a player coming from an English Premier League club like Norwich City, they expect loads, but it's behind us now and I'm focusing on myself and working hard with the new staff to be better.

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"There were hard times last season, hard for the club, but it makes you stronger mentally and we can create a positive mindset with positive results."

Bushiri is keen to learn and Hibs are likewise eager to help bring him on. Supporters didn’t see the best of the defender last season but the right cocktail of fitness and positivity could ensure a good season for player and club.