Pa Kujabi hopes skills can turn Hibs fortunes around

Pa Kujabi
Pa Kujabi
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The nickname was given when he was just a kid, kicking a ball around the streets of Serrekunda, the largest town in the tiny West African country of Gambia and it has struck with him ever since.

It’s easy to see why the comparison to Roberto Carlos was made. Like the Brazilian legend, Hibs new boy Pa Kujabi isn’t the tallest footballer ever, but he does possess the same high revving engine which allowed the Real Madrid star to endlessly motor up and down that left flank.

And, of course, there’s that thunderous left foot which saw many a goalkeeper rooted to the spot as the ball ripped past him and into the net – just click onto YouTube and watch Kujabi’s free-kick for Queens Park Rangers against Harrow Borough last summer.

Flattered he might be, but today Kujabi, one of four transfer deadline day signings made by Hibs boss Pat Fenlon, insisted that while he may answer to “Roberto,” he’s by no means the new Carlos.

In an exclusive interview with the Evening News, the little left back said: “When I was young, I was always out with my friends, kicking a ball around the streets, You went to school and then home to play football.

“We’d mark goals, play three against three or five against five then you’d play in your own team from your area against other teams. It was all very informal.

“I was a big fan of Roberto Carlos because of the way he played and like him I always liked to get forward. So my friends called me Roberto but I am not saying I am the new Roberto Carlos, he was a fantastic player.”

That said, though, the 25-year-old admitted he wouldn’t mind claiming a goal or two in similar fashion to that scored for QPR, one of four English clubs with which he’s had trials in recent months, the others being Portsmouth, West Ham and Leeds United.

He said: “I’ve scored a couple like that, the one for QPR was from something like 35 yards, so hopefully I can do that for Hibs now.”

While unsuccessful in drawing the offer of a contract down south, Kujabi immediately caught the eye of Fenlon, impressing sufficiently in a closed doors match against Partick Thistle to be asked to hang around for a further week, playing in another “bounce” game with Carlisle United on Monday before joining Jorge Claros, Matt Doherty and Roy O’Donovon in signing for Hibs.

He said: “I’m not sure how it all came about, my agent called me and told me I had a trial in Scotland so it was a case of jumping on a train and coming up here. I had that test match, the manager said I had done well and wanted to give me a second chance.

“He gave me that and then said he wanted to sign me.”

While Kujabi’s move to Edinburgh may have come about rather quickly, his arrival marks the latest stage in a journey which began in those dusty streets nine years ago, moving from that informal local football to play for Banjul Hawks in the Gambian capital (Banjul).

He revealed: “I was selected for my country’s Under-17 side which qualified for the African championships in Swaziland. There were people watching and an agent based in Austria said he had a team for me there.”

Leaving Gambia, a relatively poor country, to move to Europe was a huge decision for Kujabi but one he knew he had to take if he was to realise his long-held dream of making football his profession.

He said: “Ever since the age of eight or nine all I wanted to be was a football player. I had an uncle who played in one of the leagues and he said I was quite good. When he went to play he always took me along too in the van to watch.

“I honestly couldn’t tell you what I’d be doing back in Serrekunda today if I hadn’t made that move to Austria.

“It was a big move to make, a different country, different culture, different language and so on, very difficult especially when you are a young boy leaving your family behind, going to live by yourself. But it was also a big step in my career, to go from Africa to Europe.”

As he arrived for that trial with Grazer AK in 2004, Kujabi found homesickness was going to be just one problem, arriving in the middle of an Austrian winter from tropical Gambia.

He said: “That was a big, big, big difference. Gambia is humid and warm, there it was -9C with snow falling all the time. Everyone was laughing, telling me I’d come at the wrong time and it did take a lot of getting used to.

“There were times I felt like packing my bags and going home but there were a couple of the players who talked to me and helped me a lot.”

After three years with Grazer, Kujabi moved on to a second Austrian side, SV Ried, before joining FSV Frankfurt in the German Second Division. And for those who may worry whether his diminutive frame can cope with the rigours of the SPL, Kujabi has no such reservations.

He said: “I’ve been watching the SPL on satellite television and I know Scottish football has a reputation for being physical but I feel that if I can survive in Germany I can survive here. In the second division there they have the same physical football, a lot of running and fighting.”

Kujabi is, of course, well aware he’s joined a club battling against the threat of relegation, that particular plight having prompted a revolution from Fenlon, who has released six players in recent weeks and brought in a number of his own, this week’s signings joining the earlier arrivals of Eoin Doyle, George Francomb, James McPake and Tom Soares.

But while eager to play his part in soothing the frayed nerves of the Hibs support, Kujabi cautioned against placing too much expectation on the shoulders of the new boys.

He said: “We know there’s a great deal of expectation. We have to put our heads down, concentrate on the fight and make sure we the team gets into a better position.

“I think, though, the fans expect for the team, they want the team to do well. However, it’s not only those of us who have arrived recently but all of us. There are good players here and now we all have to work as a team which is what the coach is trying to do. Hopefully we can get up the table and at the end of the season see ourselves somewhere we did not expect.”

The relegation issue can, though, be pushed to the back of everyone’s mind with the focus tomorrow on the Scottish Cup and the visit of Kilmarnock, Kujabi revealing, as all new recruits seem to do, that he’s already well versed in Hibs’ love-hate relationship with that silverware.

He said: “I know it’s been a long time but hopefully we can make a difference. We can’t change what has happened in the past, all we can do is look forward.”