BY IAIN COLLIN – Capital City Press
Juwon Oshaniwa insists Scottish football holds no fears for him after he fulfilled his dreams and squared up to superstar Lionel Messi at last year’s World Cup finals.
And Hearts’ new signing is adamant he can handle the physicality of the Premiership – claiming he would be playing table tennis if he did not like the rough and tumble of football.
Oshaniwa, who revealed he previously came close to a move to Celtic, started all four of Nigeria’s matches at the World Cup in Brazil, where the Super Eagles qualified from the same group as Argentina.
The 24-year-old prides himself on having represented his nation at the finals, and even more so on having nicked the ball away from Messi – who nonetheless scored twice in the game – to spark an equaliser for team-mate Ahmed Musa in their 3-2 defeat to the eventual finalists.
And the left-back, whose protracted move from Israeli side Ashdod finally overcame paperwork and red tape when he put pen to paper on a three-year deal on Saturday, is desperate to prove the experience has made him a better player.
He said: “The World Cup was great. It’s what every living player on this planet has the desire to do, to play at that level.
“And, for me, at my age, to play at that level – wow!
“It was a dream fulfilled for me to play against big players like Lionel Messi, who is undisputedly the best player in the world, and a collection of attackers like Sergio Aguero, Gonzalo Higuain and Angel Di Maria and the rest.
“These are players I can look up to and I played against them.
“I was Messi’s direct marker, so of course I got some tackles in against him. Most of the pictures I’ve got from that game are against him.”
Asked is he resorted to kicking Barcelona star Messi, he added: “I wouldn’t say I’m hard, actually, but football is a contact game.
“It’s not table tennis, if you want to play a game where you don’t want anybody to touch you then you go and play ping-pong!”
Oshaniwa was thrilled to find out after Nigeria’s last-16 clash with France, which they lost 2-0, that he had been rated higher in the FIFA’s statistics than hero and opponent Patrice Evra.
He admits it was a massive boost to his confidence.
He explained: “My ‘mentor’ has always been Patrice Evra and now I can see me and him playing in the same game!
“FIFA have index statistics for every game and I am seeing myself ahead of him at the end of the game. My statistic in that game was six out of 10 and, I think, Evra was four.
“I said to myself ‘I have a bright future ahead of myself’.
“Now, I face the future and I will see what the future holds for me, but I believe it is a positive one.”
Meanwhile, Oshaniwa insists he did not have to ask international team-mate Efe Ambrose too much about Scottish football ahead of his arrival in Edinburgh – because he had already done his research when previous moves to Celtic were mooted.
The Scottish champions had been linked with the defender in 2013 under Neil Lennon and again in January this year, but with the switch having failed to materialise he is now keen to show Celtic what they missed out on.
Oshaniwa, who claims he is as fit as he could be after training on his own this summer, went on: “I am at Hearts now. Celtic are Celtic with all due respect to them.
“I knew a lot about Celtic and Scottish football because I spoke to Efe Ambrose.
“I had a lot of issues with Celtic before and for the past two seasons I was supposed to be in Glasgow but stuff happened along the line and I did not go there.
“So, I know a lot about Celtic. I spoke a lot to Efe about Celtic and we even sat down and spoke about them when we were with the national team.
“I can’t wait for the day when I play against him for Celtic and we will see what the result will be.”