Alim Ozturk already feels at home at with Hearts

Alim Ozturk
Alim Ozturk
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Flamboyant is an apt word to describe Alim Ozturk. He is a cultured centre-back with a hint of class, not averse to a touch of skill or a Cruyff turn before passing the ball out of defence.

Hearts fans are certain to take to him this season. Think Pasquale Bruno, except a bit more refined.

Ozturk’s outings in pre-season friendlies to date have been impressive. Tonight he could face superstars like Samir Nasri and Alvaro Negredo as Manchester City grace the Tynecastle turf for the most high-profile of summer fixtures. The English Premier League champions will have trouble intimidating Ozturk, though.

At 21, he has a solid football education at Holland’s SC Cambuur behind him, plus a year in Turkey with Trabzonspor. He is confident without being arrogant; flamboyant, not careless.

“That’s a part of my game and I like to do that,” smiled Ozturk. “I always try to pass if I can, that’s what I have learned from the Dutch schooling and it’s now a part of me. I am big and strong, I like to pass the ball and I can read the game. What I want is to play football from defence, that is what I enjoy.

“I am aggressive but it is important to be like that as a defender.”

Those attributes beg the question about his decision to leave Turkey. He played 18 times in the Turkish second tier last season having been farmed out to Trabzonspor’s feeder team, 1461 Trabzon. Quite simply, he felt his style of play and panache was not appreciated on the edge of the Black Sea.

“In Turkey it was very difficult,” continued Ozturk. “I was born in Holland and I was taught the Dutch school of football. It’s always pass, pass, pass. It was different in Turkey. It was more long balls, more fight and I was in the second division also. The first division is better but the second division is always fighting. I played 18 games and it was good for me, a good experience, but it was very difficult. The weather was nice because it is hot, not like Holland and Scotland, but the football was hard.”

Ozturk now finds himself in the Scottish second tier aiming to help Hearts gain promotion at the first attempt. Beyond that, he has aspirations to play at a higher level but those are at the back of his mind.

“I hope we play for one season in the Championship and then go up. That’s my first target. Next year I hope we can play in the top division but the first priority is to get there. Our first two games are Rangers away and Hibs at home.

“I heard about the Hearts-Hibs game and I can’t wait to play in that at Tynecastle. I was 19 years old when I came over to Scotland with Mark De Vries and we watched that match [in March 2012]. I wasn’t thinking about my future at the time but now I am back at Hearts.

“When my agent said to me Hearts were interested, I told him I would think about it and I thought about it for around ten days to two weeks. I remembered that game with Mark. Hearts wanted me and the coach told me about how he wants to play. That’s one of the reasons I came here.

“I spoke with my brother because I was in Turkey and I had to think about my future. I am young and I want to play. I signed for Hearts for three years and, if I play for two or three years, it’s no problem.

“Maybe I can make a step higher afterwards. That’s what I want, but first I want to take Hearts into the top league and then we will see what happens.”

The reaction from Hearts fans to De Vries, who scored four goals in his first Edinburgh derby 12 years ago, stuck in Ozturk’s mind from that weekend. As did the giant striker’s tales of life as a hero in Edinburgh.

“It was amazing walking along the street. People saw Mark and they were crazy, but I like that so much. He told me about this and it was amazing to see it. I hope I can come back and get that reaction one day.

“I played in Holland with Mark [at Cambuur] so I heard about his experiences with Hearts. I used to ask him about the clubs he played for and he told me all about Hearts. I came here for that weekend with him and we went to the Hearts-Hibs game. I heard he scored four times against Hibs.”

Ozturk arrived last month as something of an unknown quantity to supporters, much like De Vries did when Craig Levein lured him to Scotland in 2002. That didn’t stop the Hearts players pushing the Turkish Under-21 internationalist to take their initiation test during the recent training camp in England.

“Hearts is a good team with good guys, I love it here. They wanted me to sing when I got here because it’s normal for new players to sing at the training camp, but I said I don’t do that. The guys have helped me settle and it feels like I’m at home.”