Osman Sow is on the verge of a return to Hearts. With that in mind Joel Sked looks at his career since leaving Tynecastle in February 2016.
• READ MORE: Hearts move to bring Osman Sow back to Tynecastle
One way to get over a difficult break-up is to run back into the arms of that special somebody who you never truly got over. Is it healthy? Perhaps not. Does it make you feel better? Absolutely.
From the outside looking in that’s the road Hearts have gone down with their pursuit of striker Osman Sow following the departure of Kyle Lafferty to Rangers.
It is likely Craig Levein has put more thought into than it being a spur of the moment reaction of the heart. The Gorgie side have shown themselves to be much more prepared these last few months in terms of recruitment with contingency plans put in place for any situation arising.
The disappointment of seeing Lafferty depart for league rivals Rangers and the understandable lack of transparency over the transfer fee, has been dimmed by the news that former fans’ favourite Sow is on the verge of a move back to EH11.
A goalless draw at Hamilton Academical on Sunday, 24 January 2016 was the last time supporters witnessed Sow in a Hearts top. Only one player who started that day remains at the club, Arnaud Djoum.
Within weeks Sow had been sold for around £1 million to Chinese Super League (CSL) side Henan Jianye, Abiola Dauda had been brought in and Hearts had exited the Scottish Cup to eventual winners Hibs.
There is no doubting that there was a correlation between Sow leaving and the beginning of the unravelling under head coach Robbie Neilson. The derby defeat stung - and still lingers - and, despite a third place finish in their return to the top tier, the positive feeling around the club was eroding.
While animosity towards Neilson grew among the club’s support leading to his departure, the Ian Cathro debacle, the raft of players that came and went, and the subsequent resurgence under Craig Levein, Sow embarked on his own journey.
His career had been revitalised at Tynecastle under Neilson but when the prospect of a move to the CSL presented itself it was one which, from a financial perspective, the player and club could not reject.
He said: “This is a good opportunity for me to experience a new culture and style of football. I am learning every day so I just went for it.”
And, just as he did for Hearts in a memorable 2-1 victory at Ibrox, he netted the winning goal on his debut for his new team. He was later subbed, replaced by another former fans’ favourite Ryan McGowan.
Unfortunately for Sow that was the height of his time in China. He featured in all 30 games of the 2016 CSL but started only 13 times. The club finished 13th in the 16-team league, three points above the drop zone. His four goals were worth four points.
His hopes of using that first season as a platform to push on for the 2017 league campaign were dashed by a rule change. To stem the flow of imports into the league from abroad, and “irrational investments, the Chinese FA introduced a regulation whereby clubs would only be able to play three non-Chinese per game.
In an interview with the Evening News in September last year Sow said: “Only three foreigners can play in the Chinese Super League now, so the others have to sit in the stand all the time. I like to play football so, when this rule came in, we tried to make something happen and get a move.”
The Swede made a loan move to the UAE Gulf League with Emirates Club where he spent the first half of 2017. And once again he made an impact, scoring an 83rd minute winner for his new club in a 3-2 triumph.
It was only a short-term fix for Sow to play football, with three goals bagged in 11 appearances before, in the summer of 2017, he received a phone call only to hear a familiar voice on the other end. Neilson wanted to bring him to English League 1 side MK Dons, the team he left Hearts to take over.
With a coaching staff he had worked for before now in Milton Keynes he headed back to Britain.
“It was a different experience in China and UAE but I believe every experience is a good experience,” he said. “It’s hot over there and the football is played differently. The tempo is not as intense as here but I enjoyed it.”
Taking to the field against Gillingham in August 2017, he was attempting to score on his debut for his fourth successive club. And, of course, he delivered. The only goal in a 1-0 victory.
Yet, by the time Neilson had been relieved of his duties by the club in January 2018, Sow had added his second and, so far, final goal for MK Dons. The Swede could not rediscover his Hearts form to help Neilson succeed.
The forward had arrived at the club with a niggling injury and at a point where he missed pre-season. And it was injuries which has thwarted MK Dons from seeing the best the player has to offer.
He has not been seen since March and manager Paul Tisdale has been left frustrated in that he has not been able to see him in action
“It’s hard to really form a judgement on Os so far - he’s barely played,” Toby Lock, sports editor for the MK Citizen, told the Evening News. “His time here has been plagued by injury, managerial changes and more injuries.
“He has a remarkable stat of winning most of the games he has started in an MK Dons shirt, but with only two goals to his name and his injury record, he’s something of a forgotten man.
“His best moment was an excellent performance away at AFC Wimbledon, where Dons were 2-0 winners, the club’s first win at their place but he was victim of a dubious sending off against Peterborough.”
Sow will arrive looking to reignite his career once more and get back to doing what he does best, exciting fans and frightening defenders with his unique and unorthodox style of forward play.
In 2015 he found warmth and a club on the up. This time he will meet a club and support base waiting with open, loving arms to welcome back to Tynecastle.
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