The broad shoulders are the first things you notice. As the hulking frame of Osman Sow lurches forward for a handshake, you begin to feel sympathy for defenders trying to stop him.
Those shoulders will carry Hearts’ goalscoring burden during this season’s promotion push, a challenge which convinced Sow to try kickstarting his career in Edinburgh. He is here, all 6ft 4in of him, eager to get started.
Swedish football, Moldovan football, English football and even Europa League football are all on his CV. Sow is 24 and eager to play regularly at the top level, so the Hearts hierachy of Craig Levein and Robbie Neilson had a bit of talking to do to convince him to join Scotland’s second tier. The attraction was games like this Sunday’s Championship opener with Rangers at Ibrox, plus the chance to become a first-choice after spending much of last season inactive at Crystal Palace.
Sow comes across as a bit of a gentle giant. He is quietly spoken, very polite and unassuming, but defenders who have faced him will testify to his on-field ruthlessness. In four appearances for Hearts this summer, he has scored four goals – East Fife, Manchester City, Annan Athletic and St Johnstone the victims. There is more to come, for the player himself acknowledges he is less than 100 per cent fit. He still has a vital role to play, nonetheless.
In his first newspaper interview since signing a two-year contract at Tynecastle, Sow outlined his plans. “This is an opportunity for me. Things at Crystal Palace did not work out so I just want to enjoy my football, score some goals and win games. It’s very important for me to play every week. Time is ticking fast and I’m getting older, so I need to play,” he explained.
“I need a little bit of time but every day is a step in the right direction. I’m not 100 per cent but I’m getting there. It won’t take me too long, it will come. Hopefully there is more to come and that’s what I’m aiming for. It’s always good to have backing from the fans so I’m happy with that. I hope I can do well for them.”
Indications are he will be regular goalscorer this season. It is rare for players of genuine pedigree to appear in Scotland’s second division but Hearts may have unearthed a gem in their new Swede.
Born in Stockholm, Sow began his career with lower league clubs FOC Farsta and Vasby United in his homeland before joining the Moldovan side Dacia Chisinau two years ago. There, he sampled the Europa League qualifiers and scored against Slovenians Celje to help Dacia progress from the first round. Ironically for him, they were eliminated by Swedish club Elfsborg at the next stage.
Then came a frustrating year in London. Sow joined Crystal Palace too late to be included in manager Ian Holloway’s 25-man Premier League squad last summer and was thus restricted to development league outings. It was a move which turned sour, heightening his desire to make a big impression this season. “I spoke to Neil Alexander because he was at Crystal Palace with me. He called me as well as Craig and Robbie. I trusted him because he knows the Scottish game,” he said.
“Craig and Robbie talked me into it. It just felt right. They told me about the club, their plans and their ambition so I just went for it. I knew Hearts, Celtic, Rangers and Hibs. That was all I knew about Scotland.
“I want to achieve promotion, that’s the main target. I want to play in the top league next year because I have played in top leagues in other countries. I think we have a good team and we have a great chance. We just need to work hard now.
“We did our job well on Sunday [against St Johnstone]. We tried to play football and we got a result, winning 4-0. Things are going in the right direction and I’m just looking forward to this weekend when the season really starts. I’m just focusing on that.
“I was attracted by the big games. You like the big matches, that’s what you live for. I played in big games like the Europa League when I was in Moldova and I played in the Swedish league, but I don’t think it will compare to Sunday. I think it will be the biggest game for me so far.
“The stadium holds 50,000 people and that atmosphere just makes you run for longer. These are the games I want to be involved in.”
His imposing physical stature makes Sow ideally suited to the kick-and-rush football which can be all too commonplace in Scotland. Except Neilson abhors such an approach and is adamant his Hearts side should be recognised as a passing team who play football on the ground. That attitude suits Sow, who has already shown a technical side to his game and is more than just a giant lump of a centre-forward.
“The football is a little bit different but I like that. Hearts are trying to play football and I like that,” he continuned. “It’s a little bit more physical and people come straight through but it’s good for strikers. The pace is okay. It’s quick going forward and quick going back.
“Robbie told me helpful stuff about what I need to do and what I don’t need to do. All the strikers here know football and they understand how to play.”
Sow should begin to feel more settled in Edinburgh tomorrow when he moves into his own home after being holed up in a hotel for the last three weeks. “I have my girlfriend with me and that’s about it. We’re still in the hotel but tomorrow I’m moving in to a new place. Everyone has been nice and helpful so far.”
He may need to duck to get through the new doorway but he certainly won’t need any help shifting furniture around. Osman Sow’s giant frame can be put to many uses. For Hearts, it will be best seen bearing down on goal.