HE IS, someone noted, the anti-Robbie Neilson. Strident in his views and so very, very loud compared to the softly-spoken Hearts head coach, Juwon Oshaniwa had few compunctions about proclaiming Hearts as title contenders following their latest victory on Saturday.
While Neilson continues his policy of treading carefully over every word, Oshaniwa, this impressive Nigerian left-back, was rather less backward about coming forward after his side’s 3-0 win over Partick Thistle.
Oshaniwa, who arrived at the club in the summer after three years in Israel, seems to have slipped into the inspirational role performed by Takis Fyssas from the same position during Hearts’ excellent start to the 2005-06 season.
After their fifth Premiership win on the spin at the weekend, the Tynecastle side remain on course to emulate the run of eight successive SPL victories under George Burley a decade ago. While Neilson is cautiously tempering expectations, the likeable Oshaniwa sees no reason why Hearts cannot maintain their challenge for longer than just a few weeks.
“Of course we can win the title,” he said, during one of the more colourful post-match press conferences. “That is the reason why I am here. I didn’t just come here for a picnic, I came to be celebrated.”
It is, of course, a departure from Neilson’s cautious realism. But as Oshaniwa explained, without harbouring such lofty ambitions, what was the point in him coming to Scotland in the first place? After all, having been a member of the Nigerian squad that won the Africa Cup of Nations title in 2013, coming on as a substitute in the final against Burkina Faso, he knows what it takes to be a winner. He likes the feeling.
“Everything is possible in football,” he said. “When it comes to football, anything is possible. The main thing is that you be strong upstairs, mentally. You have to believe.
“With this start, winning every game, it’s a real morale boost for us. So we keep pressing until we get there. I came to use the talent that God has deposited in me, to help the younger players and see how far we were going to succeed this very season.”
He conceded overcoming Celtic will be a big test – Hearts play them for the first time at the end of next month. But over 90 minutes, who knows what can happen?
“Celtic have a lot of experienced players and a big budget,” he said. “So they have a good team and are reigning champions of the country. But, like I told you before, in football, the story is told at the end of 90 minutes.
“And, with the collection of young players and experienced determined players, the management and board we have, I know that after 90 minutes we will have the answer. But we are all at Hearts to fight for the title.”
Then, one final time, just to be sure there could be no confusion, he was asked if he truly believed Hearts could win the title this season. If, ten years after they came second and 30 years after they were robbed of the title on the final day, they could finally cross the line as winners?
“I just answered you!” he exclaimed. “It is possible. Names don’t play football. All due respect to Celtic but the 90 minutes is going to tell.
“I play for Hearts and what do you expect? When we play Celtic, I’m not going in there as a chicken – I’m going in to win. I have come here for business and I know what it takes to be successful and be celebrated as a champion.
“I was celebrated as a Champion of all Africa in the Nations Cup. So what should I say?” he added.
“When you are a champion, the atmosphere is always awesome and you have a lot of family. It is when you lose, that’s when you become an orphan.
“This is our target this very season. We are going to be celebrated at the end of the season.”