When one of Sweden’s largest newspapers prints headlines about 43,000 fans being silenced in Scotland’s second division, the impact of Hearts’ win at Ibrox hits home.
News of Osman Sow’s winning goal reverberated around his homeland in tandem with Hurricane Bertha this week. In fact, the striker is bigger news now than he ever was when playing in the Swedish league.
“Osman Sow tystade 43,000 mot Rangers,” screamed Monday’s headline in the Stockholm-based Aftonbladet. You don’t need to speak fluent Svensk to get the gist. Sow’s finish in the dying seconds of his Hearts league debut secured a dramatic 2-1 win over Rangers, the significance of which was not lost in Scandinavia.
Those who know him personally smiled contentedly. Those who developed him as a footballer swelled with pride. At Syrianska, the club he left last year for an ill-fated spell with Crystal Palace, there was satisfaction that Sow is working towards his ultimate goal. The 24-year-old is making a fair impression in Scotland after five goals in five appearances for Hearts, but his career aim is still to create headlines in England. Headlines similar to those he made in Sweden this week.
“It was really big news here. The biggest newspaper in our country wrote that he silenced 43,000 in Glasgow,” said Syrianska’s sport director, Can Melkemichel. He tried to lure Sow back to Sweden just a few weeks ago before the striker joined Hearts. An offer from Helsingborgs was also rejected in favour of a two-year contract at Tynecastle.
“I saw Osman in Stockholm during the summer before he joined Hearts,” explained Melkemichel. “I spoke with him about coming back to Syrianska, but he had an offer from Helsingborgs. He trained with them for one week and they wanted to sign him but he didn’t go there.
“I have a friend who knows him very well and he told me that maybe he could do something to get Osman to Syrianska on a short contract if he didn’t find a club. I said yes, of course, but it didn’t happen.
“He believes in himself and he told me when I saw him in Stockholm that he wanted to go back to England. I think he chose Hearts now because it’s closest to England for him. He always said he wanted to play in England.”
Exposure gained in the most high-profile second tier in Scottish football history can only help Sow as he aims to fulfil that ambition. His start was mightily impressive at the weekend. Although quietly spoken and visibly humble in person, he is a player who comes alive on a football pitch.
A hulking 6ft 4in frame, allied to fine technical skill, a good turn of pace and lethal finishing ability make him an awkward customer to handle. The Rangers’ central defenders Lee McCulloch and Marius Zaliukas would testify to that.
“That’s what I like about Osman. He is very quiet away from the pitch, but on the pitch he is like an animal,” continued Melkemichel. “Maybe Scottish football has lots of high balls and Osman is very strong physically. He is good with his head and he has a very good left foot. Every defender has a problem when they play against Osman. He moves all the time, he never stands still. For a defender, it is easy to stop a forward who doesn’t move. Osman is very mobile.”
Sow may be big news at the moment but, little more than a year ago, he returned to Syrianska from the Moldovan club Dacia Chisinau as a relative unknown. Melkemichel gave him a week-long trial but within two days offered the player a contract. It was the move which would eventually propel Sow across the North Sea towards British football.
“When we signed Osman, he was not famous. We took a chance with him,” he explained. “We knew he had played in the Swedish third division with FOC Farsta and in the second division with Vasby United. We know Vasby very well and he didn’t make such a good impression there so he left to go to Moldova.
“He came to Syrianska to train and we decided very quickly – after two training sessions – that we wanted to sign him. We told him he could come here on trial for a week but after two days we wanted him.
“He only wanted to sign a short contract with us and we agreed. He was a really good striker for us – strong, fast and a target man. We tried to keep him, but you know how it is in Sweden. It is a small football country. He got a good contract in London and he left.”
Melkemichel did not get the consolation of a transfer fee because Sow was out of contract by then and determined to get to England as a free agent.
“We had him for a few months here at Syrianska and then he had a trial in England with Blackpool. I think it went well at Blackpool, but then he signed for Crystal Palace,” continued Melkemichel.
“He told us when he came to Syrianska that, if some clubs want him, he didn’t want us to stand in his way. We didn’t. We were happy when he was here and we were very impressed with his skills. We were sorry that he got a good contract and left.
“Unfortunately, we didn’t get any money for him. When he came back to Sweden, we didn’t expect him to be as good as he was. He only signed for four months with us and then his agent said it’s up to him. We didn’t have him on a longer contract so we couldn’t do anything but let him leave for free.”
The Crystal Palace move evolved into a disaster for the player, however, as he failed to make a first-team appearance and was released in May.
At Hearts, his winning goal against Rangers makes him an instant success. Next up is an Edinburgh derby debut against Hibs. Sow has told Swedish media he is enjoying football again after a tough time last year and that he thrives on pressure from big crowds. If he produces another decisive moment in this weekend’s high-octane fixture, Sweden’s papers better clear some space for another hit.