Newly-appointed captain Alim Ozturk has declared himself fit and ready for action as Hearts prepare to kick off their competitive campaign a week tonight.
The 22-year-old centre-back was officially confirmed as the Tynecastle club’s new skipper yesterday despite having his pre-season disrupted by fitness problems. A stomach operation at the end of last season meant he was unable to train at the same intensity as his colleagues when they resumed after their summer break last month. Then, upon returning to action in the friendly away to Shelbourne almost three weeks ago, the Turk lasted only 25 minutes before leaving the park gingerly with a thigh problem.
Ozturk hasn’t played since that setback in Dublin, although he was on the bench for last weekend’s defeat at Preston North End. However, he is now back in full training and will step up his bid to be ready for the League Cup first-round tie at home to Arbroath next Thursday and the Premiership opener against St Johnstone three days later by playing in this Sunday’s friendly against Everton at Tynecastle.
“I played 25 minutes in Ireland and my stomach surgery was okay, but my thigh had a small problem,” said Ozturk. “It’s better now and I have trained for the last week. I hope to start against Everton. The thigh feels okay and I feel good. I hope to be able to lead the team out against Arbroath for my first match as captain.”
Ozturk, who moved to Tynecastle from Trabzonspor last summer and swiftly established himself as an integral member of Hearts’ Championship-winning team, succeeds Danny Wilson as captain following his former defensive partner’s departure and subsequent move to Rangers.
Head coach Robbie Neilson chose the former Turkey Under-21 internationalist as skipper ahead of more experienced players like Neil Alexander, Morgaro Gomis and Blazej Augustyn.
“Robbie told me around ten days ago,” said Ozturk. “It means a lot for me. I had a good season last year. Morgaro was second captain. To be the captain of Hearts now is a really big thing.
“I was happy when he told me. It’s an honour for me because it’s a really big club. I told my family straight away and they were very proud. I am still only 22 and everybody is very happy for me.
“It is something special and I will do my best to represent Hearts as well as possible.”