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Robbie Neilson: Beni Baningime can inspire ‘nearly there’ Premier League players

Hearts of Midlothian v Celtic – cinch Premiership – Tynecastle Park
(Image credit: Jane Barlow)

Robbie Neilson is hoping Beni Baningime’s career resurgence at Hearts will help convince other young English Premier League hopefuls to make the move to Scotland in future.

The 23-year-old has been a revelation since joining the Tynecastle club in the summer after failing to establish himself with Everton.

Neilson believes there are plenty more players out there like Baningime who would benefit from moving north to a club like Hearts.

He said: “It’s the nature of the game in England that it’s very difficult for boys to get into a Premier League first team because of the level they’re at. They’re buying guys for £60-70million.

“You have a lot of players like Beni who are nearly there. Beni did really well when he was younger but then he went out on a couple of loans.

“When you look at the loans, they were to clubs that weren’t in good positions (Wigan in 2019 and Derby in 2020) so it was a difficult couple of years for him. We’ve given him a platform to play and hopefully we’ll both get the benefit from it.

“In terms of recruitment, it’s always been an area for a club like Hearts to look at. Last season when we were in the Championship it was difficult to get anybody to come up but now we’re in the Premiership, it’s a lot more attractive to players.

“There are good players there but it’s just trying to convince them to come to Scotland that can be the difficulty. A lot of the Under-23s in the Premier League clubs look at it and say they’ll stay in England and go to the Championship or even League One and League Two as opposed to coming to Scotland.

“It’s not until they come here that they realise the size of the club and also the standard of the league. Beni’s fitted into the group really well and on the pitch he’s been outstanding. He still developing though so it’s important he keeps doing what he’s doing on the training ground and that will reflect on the pitch.”

Neilson will make a decision on Friday over whether to restore John Souttar to his team for Saturday’s showdown with Motherwell after the defender missed last weekend’s win over Livingston with a minor thigh injury.

He said: “John’s fine. He did a bit of training today (Thursday) and we’ll try him again tomorrow before we make a decision on whether he goes straight back in or not.”

Hearts are third in the cinch Premiership with Motherwell just one place below and Neilson is expecting an enthralling match at Tynecastle – with the winner getting the chance to take over at the top of the table, for one day at least.

He said: “When you play at Tynecastle in front of 18,000, it’s always a big game, no matter who you’re playing. Last week we had a brilliant atmosphere and a good performance, and we need to carry that into this week.

“We’ve got two teams going very well in the league, two teams on the front foot, and two teams that believe they can win the game so I think it will be an entertaining game.”