PERRY KITCHEN today spoke of his “huge honour” at being named Hearts captain and stressed there are no hard feelings between him and Alim Ozturk.
The American international midfielder is the new club captain at Tynecastle in a surprise move which saw him replace Ozturk.
The Turkish defender now faces an uncertain future having been dropped by head coach Robbie Neilson five weeks ago. His contract expires at the end of the season, although there have been initial talks on an extension.
Admitting his surprise at being offered the captaincy just seven months into his career in Scotland, Kitchen declared he will do everything to lead Hearts with pride.
“This is definitely a proud moment. It’s a huge honour and I’m looking forward to taking on that role. I was a bit surprised, to be honest,” he said. “It was a conversation me and Robbie had over the past few days, that’s how it started. You’d have to ask him why he chose me.
“We have a lot of leaders in this team and Don [Cowie] did a great job while he had the armband. Alim did as well. I’m just looking to continue what they’ve done.
“You don’t have to have the armband to lead and that’s something we have within the group – a lot of guys who will step up.
“We had a meeting today and the guys are happy with it. Again, it’s a tough position. It’s tough for Alim because he is a leader of this team. He’s a good professional and he’ll respond in the right way.
“He didn’t say anything specific, he congratulated me but it’s a tough position for him to be in. He’s still going to be a leader here and that’s what you’d expect from him. There are no hard feelings.”
Kitchen, 24, will lead Hearts out for the first time against Ross County on Saturday. It will be the first occasion in his professional career that he has captained any club.
“I’ve captained youth international teams and youth club teams but this is my first time as a professional,” he continued, speaking at the preview night for the official Hearts museum, which opens tomorrow.
“Looking around, the history of this club, what it means to the supporters, the duration it’s been around, it’s a big role to fill and I’m looking forward to the opportunity.
“I’d say I know a pretty significant amount about the club already. I’ve read the ‘Hearts At War’ book and learned about McCrae’s Battalion, so I think I’ve got a good understanding of what the club is about and what it means to the fans.
“The history of the club means a lot to the fans, there are a lot of proud moments for the fans to have. It feels good to represent this club and pull on the jersey.
“I’m thankful for the opportunity and to be at this club and I’m looking forward to continuing to grow as a player and help this team win.”
Kitchen revealed that his ultimate desire now is to lift silverware with Hearts. “Absolutely, that’s the goal, not just as captain but as a player. We all want to win something and put your name in history, so that is definitely important.”
Neilson explained that Kitchen’s application since arriving in Edinburgh in February from the American club DC United had earned him the armband.
“I’ve been impressed by Perry’s attitude, desire and, of course, his performances from day one,” Neilson told the Hearts website. “He’s a natural and leads by example both on and off the park. He’s also a really good player and will inspire those around him to reach the highest standards.
“Ideally, we want 11 captains on the pitch every week. In recent times we’ve had Don Cowie lead the team out and Alim Ozturk skippered us to third place last season, so there’s that experience already there that will help us through games.” Neilson stressed that Ozturk still has a role to play for the rest of the season. “I’d like to thank Alim for the huge part he played, and will continue to play, in helping the team to the top end of the league.
“It’s now Perry’s time to take over that responsibility and I’ve absolutely no doubt that he will flourish in the role of Hearts captain.”