SCARS below Abiola Dauda’s eyes mark out the Hearts striker as someone a little different. Nigerian tribal markings aren’t exactly common in the often humdrum world of Scottish football. Every player get battles scars, but Dauda has carried his two symmetrical cuts since birth.
They help define him as a person – a footballer with a unique background who is now intent on stamping his own impression in Edinburgh. He needs games and goals in the Ladbrokes Premiership before his loan ends and he returns to his parent club in the Netherlands, Vitesse Arnhem.
Four games have come and gone like a whirlwind already. The 28-year-old admits it is a challenge adapting to the football and the climate here. He is well versed with Europe having played in Sweden and Serbia as well as the Netherlands. However, Scotland is rather unique in its own way. That also applies to Dauda, whose family history is literally written all over his face.
“I get asked about that a lot since I moved to Europe,” he said, speaking exclusively to the Evening News. “It’s a tradition from home which represents where I come from. It’s more or less about letting people know about the kind of family I’m from. Everyone in my family has this. The men and the boys have these scars and the females have different ones.
“If I walk on the street now and maybe someone from Nigeria sees me, if he knows a bit about tribal marks, he can ask me where I’m from. It’s about my identity. It’s just tribal marks. When I first moved here I got asked thousands of times. It’s normal. I guess it makes me look different.
“I’m enjoying my time here and the people at the club have welcomed me well. I like the players and the staff so it is very positive. The football is quite different compared to Holland. I’ve played four games and it’s been four different type of games. The last one [against Dundee United] is what you have to expect about Scottish football – a lot of long balls and not too much playing. I guess you have one of these games in a season where it is like this.
“I had some minutes at Vitesse and I also played in the reserves. I would not say I wasn’t ready to come here. The first two games I played were okay, and now I’m getting better and stronger. I’m working hard in training, trying to push myself up a level. When you come to a new place, you don’t expect things to just click. You need a little bit of time. I think I’ve dealt with it pretty well so far. I need to prepare myself mentally that every game will be like this.”
News of Osman Sow’s £1m-plus transfer to China broke the day Dauda checked into Tynecastle. Fans, perhaps naturally, looked to the new loan arrival as a replacement. Dauda didn’t entertain such a notion and simply set his mind on making his own impact. He will continue striving to do so tomorrow, when he hopes to add to his two goals so far against Kilmarnock at Tynecastle.
“It don’t feel under pressure. He [Sow] was here for two seasons, I’m only going to be here for six months. That’s the big difference. I’m just here to represent myself. With all respect to him for what he did for the club, I wish him all the best but I’m not here to fill in for him. I’m here to give whatever I can to make the team stronger.
“Of course, this is the kind of speculation that goes on around people and fans. They think you’re here to fill in for the guy who left and they talk about how important he was to the team. Sow is the kind of player he is and I am the kind of player I am. I’m going to be here for a very short time so I just have to make a very good impression, which I am mentally prepared for.
“My strength is playing on the ground and going in behind the defenders. Sometimes you just have to play long and fight for the ball. Hopefully, it will bounce down to one of your players and you can play from the second ball. In Scotland, it is more about the second balls.”
When he does return to Arnhem, he needs to be ready to cement a regular first-team place.
“That’s my plan. I came here for the opportunity to help the team, do well, play regular football and score goals. Whatever happens after that, we just have to wait and see. I am really focused on how I can help Hearts and become a better player.
“This is my first time staying in the UK. I’ve played some games against UK teams but the weather is the thing. You can’t predict anything. I follow the Premier League in England and I see how the weather is there sometimes. People complain, so I think it is a general thing about the UK that the weather is not so friendly.”
Surely living in Sweden for six years would mean you can handle a Scottish winter? “We all know Sweden is cold but it’s not unpredictable like here,” smiled Dauda. “Four days ago, it was sunny, then it became rainy and it was cold and windy. In Sweden, you always have this period when everybody knows it’s going to be windy. Then there’s a period when it’s going to be cold. Here, it can be sunshine and then before you get home it’s all cloudy and windy again.”
If nothing else, at least he has a compatriot at Hearts to huddle with in the really biting cold. “I hang around with Juwon Oshaniwa a lot and I have some friends from London who come up to see me. My family are all in Nigeria. My brother follows Scottish football a lot and he always gives me feedback if he’s watching the games. I think they see a few highlights of Scottish football.
“Nigerian football is just the way the national team plays. It’s all easy passing and playing football. Here, in ninety minutes, you have to keep moving and there are a lot of duals in the air. There are a lot of big centre-backs who are very strong in the air but probably not that good on the ground.”
It hasn’t taken Abiola Dauda long to suss out Scottish football – but will he leave his own indelible mark when his Hearts loan ends?