The German accent is the biggest giveaway. Lennard Sowah is of Ghanaian descent but he developed a mean outward toughness growing up in Hamburg. That’s why sentiment won’t influence him tomorrow when he plays for Hearts against Hamilton Academical.
The Lanarkshire club gave the defender his big break in Scotland last October by signing him on a three-month contract. He played seven games before defecting to Tynecastle. He is in Edinburgh because of his performances in Hamilton and owes them a debt of gratitude for plucking him from Hamburg’s reserves.
Tomorrow won’t be the time for thankyous, however. Not on the pitch, at least. After five games without a win, Sowah’s stereotypical German mentality prioritises a victory. He is simply out to beat his former employers. Accies are fighting relegation from the Ladbrokes Premiership but that won’t enter the player’s mind.
“It wasn’t an easy decision to leave Hamilton and join Hearts. It took me a while,” admitted Sowah in an exclusive interview.
“I spoke to my parents because I’m really close to my dad. I talk to him a lot about football decisions. He gives me his feelings and I tell him my concerns. We talked about it and I slept on it over and over. I thought about it for more than a week.
“Hamilton did offer me a contract extension. It was very difficult to say no but there comes a time when you have to try to take the next step. I felt this was my opportunity to take the next step.
“This is football. Sometimes you go to a new club and you play against your previous club. I’m a Hearts player now so I will do everything to beat Hamilton. After the game, I will talk to them because I’m still on good terms with the gaffer there and all the players. First, we have to beat them.
“The whole team knows what this game is about. The previous results weren’t good at all. We know we have to win this game. I think it’s a must-win game but I also think we shouldn’t put ourselves under too much pressure. We should just go out there, enjoy the game and try to win.”
He is also looking to impress the Hearts coaching staff and club hierarchy to ensure he stays at Tynecastle beyond the summer. He arrived in January on a six-month deal and is eager to earn an extension.
“I actually don’t know who made the contact, whether the agent went to Hearts or they went to him. It happened through the same agent that took me to Hamilton. I don’t exactly know how it happened. Hearts is a big club so my first thought was definitely positive. It wasn’t a quick decision, like: ‘Yes, I’m going to Hearts.’
“The move to Hamilton came through an agent who already had a player at Hamilton. I knew the player from back in Germany. I had some other offers but I had played in the UK before and I like the football here.
“It was a quick decision for me. I definitely wanted to come and play in the UK. I took the opportunity to come to Scotland.
“It was a short contract but I knew if I got the chance to get into playing, I could show myself and get a new contract there or elsewhere. It worked out pretty well.
“I was in the UK before, from 2007 till 2010. I played for Arsenal under-16s, then I moved to Portsmouth for two years and then back to Germany. I shook Arsene Wenger’s hand once but I was just 15 years old at the time.”
That understanding of British football is standing Sowah in good stead. Hearts’ recent malaise has seen some fans unleash their ire on players they feel aren’t contributing enough. If nothing else, it will make the nine new recruits signed in January fully aware of what is expected when you don a maroon shirt.
Sowah was one of the nine, although he already had an idea of the expectation levels in Gorgie.
“It hasn’t been a surprise. I think it’s normal,” he admitted. “If we aren’t doing well then we aren’t happy. I guess nobody likes losing.
“I totally understand the fans. They pay a lot of money to travel to our away games and for tickets and stuff. They definitely deserve more from us.”
Sowah hasn’t endured much personal criticism due to his performances being fairly consistent on the left side of defence. He filled in at centre-back against Partick Thistle two weeks ago but is in no doubt about where he feels most comfortable.
“I think the left-back position is my best. I can play centre-back but my main position is left-back,” he said. Competition is rife in that department with the Moroccan internationalist Faycal Rherras and the Nigerian defender Juwon Oshaniwa challenging for Sowah’s spot.
To date, Sowah is the preferred choice of head coach Ian Cathro. “Don’t get me wrong, they are both really good players with international experience,” said the German.
“In every position in the team, you have two, three or four guys who play there. Everybody wants to play but at the end of the day we are a team. We all have the same goal, to win the games.”