Armand Gnanduillet explains how Hearts made him a better player after tough spell in Turkey
After a difficult period with Altay, swapping Turkey’s second division for Scotland’s second tier has been richly rewarding for the 29-year-old French striker.
The work ethic instilled by Hearts manager Robbie Neilson and club coaches is rubbing off on Gnanduillet, who openly admits a lack of professionalism in Turkey hindered his prowess.
He joined Altay last August but left in December after one start, 14 substitute appearances and two goals. Four strikes in seven outings for his new club underline the transformation both physically and mentally.
“Six months ago, it was very tough. I took the decision to go to Turkey so I can only blame myself,” explained Gnanduillet. “It's fine now but it was a tough few months. I have been here since January. I have a good feeling getting up in the morning and coming to training.
“Even if I don't like to run in training, we are running and it's alright. It was very tough for me in Turkey. The weather was the only good thing over there. It's different here.
“I prefer this culture, playing, scoring goals and giving assists and giving all I've got. That's what makes me happy. All my friends and family are happy for me. I just want to carry on, avoid injury and be the best player I can be.
“Since I came here, the staff and players helped me a lot because I had a tough few months because of Covid and my time in Turkey. I knew I would have to work physically here because it's not the same tempo over there.
“I am starting to feel very good. I want to play the full game but you can see I came off after 75 and 80 minutes. I tried to give my best and I feel tired but my fitness is getting better and better, so I am happy.”
Casting his mind back to life in the Turkish coastal city of Izmir, Gnanduillet outlined some of the differences in lifestyle he struggled to cope with. “It's another culture, it's another country and it's far from France. It's not like here, where I'm not too far from home,” he said.
“The language is different. They don't really work hard so I have been working hard to get to the level I want to be at.
“When you train hard and don't get a chance or you only play for five or ten minutes, as a player your mentality starts to come down you are just there to be there. I don't really like this.
“I had some good relationships over there and I met some really good people. I was in a little group of french lads. Life was nice outside football because it's a beautiful country. After training you could go to the beach and jet ski, get some sun and relax.
“The biggest difference is they are not very, very professional like here. When I saw the facilities here, I knew I could train very hard and get better. Turkey is not like this.
“They go and play and if they play they are happy, but if they don't play they are happy as well. I don't like this. I just want to play and give everything I've got.”
Beach season in Scotland, if such a thing exists, is certainly not in February or March. So how does Gnanduillet currently spend his down time in Edinburgh?
“Everything is shut so I can't really go into the city but I try to see a little bit of it in my car just playing music. I talk with my friends because they ask me a lot about Scotland. They only really know about Celtic and Rangers so they don't really know about some other clubs.”
They certainly won't know Gnanduillet’s next two opponents. He faces Arbroath this afternoon before a long journey north on Monday for Hearts’ Scottish Cup second round tie against Highland League champions Brora Rangers.
He is particularly looking forward to facing Scotland’s two biggest clubs in the Premiership next season with Hearts edging towards automatic promotion. There is also a lingering hope that he can take on good friend Clevid Dikamona once more.
The former Hearts centre-back told Gnanduillet he would thrive at Tynecastle Park and encouraged him to sign an 18-month contract back in January.
The pair have been close since their days together at Le Havre. Should Kilmarnock renew Dikamona’s contract this summer, he could resume a friendly rivalry with Gnanduillet.
“I'm friends with Clevid so I talk with him as well,” said the forward.” We were together in Le Havre when we were young nearly ten years ago. He was playing with the first team and I was in the under-18s.
“We're close friends and he told me already about the club. I watched him play for Hearts as well and he told me a lot about them.
“I played against him when he was at Dagenham and I was at Stevenage. I like to play against him because I know him and he's like me because he loves the challenge. But he knows if I play against him I will score! The first time I played against him I lost, but then the next time we won 3-2. We both scored though so it was fine!”