AS BEFITS his status and seniority in the Hearts dressing room, Neil Alexander almost adopts the tone of a fond, albeit slightly frazzled, father when prompted to discuss the irrepressible Juwon Oshaniwa.
The cocksure Oshaniwa wasted no time in hitting the headlines following his arrival in Scotland, and the man who marked Lionel Messi at last summer’s World Cup is embarking on his latest seemingly impossible challenge with relish.
After Hearts’ fine 3-0 win over Partick Thistle last week made it five league wins in a row, the 24-year-old Nigerian declared there was no reason Robbie Neilson’s side could not beat Celtic to the championship.
His addition of “I’m not here for a picnic” provided the perfect flourish in a memorable press conference.
“I must say I love Juwon’s enthusiasm but, well, just calm down,” smiles Alexander. “We’re winning, the fans are enjoying it and everyone is really hyped up. It’s understandable – but there are times you need to pull him aside and say: ‘Look, there is still a long way to go’.”
Oshaniwa has an Africa Cup of Nations winners’ medal, carries himself with the swagger of a champion and genuinely believes Hearts can win the title for the first time since 1960.
However, former Scotland goalkeeper Alexander was quick to provide some context to a marvellous start to the season by the capital club.
“Juwon has not played in Scottish football before, and we’ve not played Celtic, Dundee United, Aberdeen or Inverness yet,” continued the 37-year-old, who is combining his playing duties with a coaching role this term. “A few of the boys have mentioned that in the dressing room and the manager has said it as well. We all know what Scottish football is like, we know what’s ahead of us. It’s going to be a tough, long winter, the pitches won’t be great and neither will the weather.
“So we’ll see how we go after that. He can get carried away at the end of the season as much as he wants if we finish strongly and we have done well!”
Nevertheless, it is natural that the Hearts hype machine will kick up a notch if the Jambos leave Hamilton today with another three points.
“We’ve been able to carry on that fantastic winning mentality from last season, which bodes well for the future,” continued Alexander. “Hopefully we can carry that on.”
Hamilton striker Christian Nade regarded Robbie Neilson as a leader when the pair played alongside each other for Hearts, and the Frenchman fully expected his former team-mate to embark on a career in management.
The striker said: “I know Robbie very well but he is my opponent now.
“I’m not surprised by how well he has done since becoming a head coach. He has always been a leader in the dressing room. He is someone I knew would be a good coach. I am really looking forward to going up against them.
“I signed for Accies for a reason. We play as a team and Christian Nade has nothing to prove to anybody.”
The 30-year-old added: “I think every game will be tough for us. Hearts are playing really well and have a 100 per cent record, but we have been playing well too, and scoring goals. It will be difficult for them to win at our home ground.
“Last season I went up against Hearts as a Raith player and I enjoyed going back to Tynecastle. We’ve got a chance to beat Hearts.”