WITH several influential team-mates sitting in the stand injured, Osman Sow’s fitness is vital to Hearts.
The new season starts on Thursday when Arbroath visit Tynecastle in the League Cup. Then it’s St Johnstone on Sunday in the opening Premiership game. Sow is fit and praying he stays that way, particularly as others are struggling.
Miguel Pallardo misses the start of the campaign, as will Soufian El Hassnaoui, while Prince Buaben is doubtful. Juanma and Blazej Augustyn are expected to be fit but have missed pre-season games due to niggling problems. Likewise Morgaro Gomis and Alim Ozturk. A torn thigh muscle hindered Sow after a lively start last season and he is eager to avoid a repeat.
His giant 6ft 4in frame makes him susceptible to muscle strains and pulls, but he played every one of Hearts’ pre-season friendlies. Competitive action is about to begin and the Swedish striker is ready to increase the tempo. “Staying clear of injury is a big thing for me. As long as you are on the pitch, you have a chance to score goals so I want to stay on the pitch as much as possible,” he told the Evening News. “You can’t think about injuries so I don’t sit and worry about it. You really just have to let go when you cross the white line and go for it. I don’t let it hold me back.”
Goals have yet to come for Sow, but he isn’t flustered about that either. He aimed to finish last season with 20 after returning in late January from three months out. Instead, he managed 12 goals from 25 appearances. It’s safe to assume this year’s target is slightly more modest given Hearts are the newly-promoted team in Scotland’s top flight. Sow isn’t giving anything away when asked about his personal aims.
“There is always pressure but it’s good playing with pressure. It makes you play better,” he said. “I believe in what we’re doing and I believe in this squad so I’m excited. We’ve been playing longer in the friendly games so I’m feeling good and I’m looking forward to the new season. It’s a huge season for me and I want to do my best. I do have a goals target but I’m not telling it this early.
“I came to Hearts last year and the first thing I wanted was to get promoted. We did that and now there are new targets so we have to go for them. I don’t know the Scottish Premiership that well. I haven’t played against most of the teams there but I believe in what we are doing. I think we can finish in the top half of the table. You want to play at the top level, in the bigger stadiums, and that’s what we’re going to do.”
Again, competition is fierce amongst forwards at Tynecastle. Sow has the newly-arrived Spanish striker Juanma, another summer signing Gavin Reilly and the highly-rated Gary Oliver challenging him. El Hassnaoui’s knee ligament injury means he won’t play until November at the earliest.
“There are a lot of good strikers here so everyone needs to perform,” declared Sow. “I think I play better with competition because you need to step your game up. We are stepping up a league, so everybody has to put the work in. Every footballer wants to play every game and I certainly do. I want to make life difficult for the manager. The manager just wants good performances and lots of goals.”
Sow’s efforts over the next few weeks could well determine his long-term future with Hearts. He is out of contract in a year’s time having signed a two-year deal last summer. Head coach Robbie Neilson and director of football Craig Levein will be watching closely to see how he copes against the best players in the country. The player himself is relaxed about the situation.
“I don’t really think about that just now. I just try to do my best and what will happen will happen, but I like it here. Hearts is a great club and I think we can have a good season. I want to play my part.”