Donis Avdijaj interview: Shy off pitch, explosive on it - and why he's Hearts' No.99
Kosovan tells fans what they can expect from him at Tynecasttle
The new firecracker of Gorgie is ready to ignite.
Donis Avdijaj displayed an endearing combination of passion, confidence and charisma as he spoke to the media yesterday following his arrival at Hearts on a short-term deal. The bold and sparky 23-year-old Kosovo internationalist clearly feels he is perfectly suited to playing at Tynecastle, a hive of emotion where on-field feistiness can help raise the decibel level.
If he can marry his firebrand approach with the talent which saw him cast as one of Germany’s brightest young talents when he emerged at Schalke 04 as a teenager, then Avdidaj - the first new signing of Daniel Stendel’s reign - will have every chance of becoming a firm fans’ favourite.
“Out of the football field I am the guy you see now - I’m a little bit nice to everyone, I’m a little bit shy,” said Avdijaj, when asked what type of player supporters can expect. “But on the field you will see a change in me, fast. I’m a very aggressive player, a very technical player and a very emotional player. It’s a mix that the fans will like. In home games I like to lift the fans. I will give emotion and heart.”
Avdijaj, who is set to make his debut away to Ross County this evening, is clearly determined to forge a bond with the Hearts supporters and is excited about sampling Scottish football.
“What I can say about my first days at Hearts is that I love this country’s mentality, I love the people, they are so helpful, so lovely and positive,” he said. “You maybe know it better but that’s what I see. Hearts is a good club and everything I have seen until now, I say ‘wow’. It is like a family.
“When the contact came, although I had some talks in the last few days with other clubs, there was something about Hearts. The coach and me had contact and for me it was important to go somewhere where I felt I had a family behind me and to have a coach behind me; someone who knows what I can do and who knows me well.”
Avdijaj was breaking through at Schalke as a teenager with a £41 million release clause in his contract when Stendel was a youth coach at Hannover. The little attacker, who is likely to play out wide, has been impressed in his early dealings with his new manager. “We didn’t know each other personally, but we knew everything about each other because my work and his work were not so far apart,” explained Avdijaj. “I was at Schalke and he was at Hannover and he also worked with the boys who were my age.
“I didn’t talk to anybody about him before I came here because I took my decision only with the two or three people I have around me. After one or two discussions with the coach, it was clear to me that I should come to Hearts and play in this beautiful stadium and play for these beautiful fans who are behind the team. It was clear that I would have this coach and this club behind me and I want to give everything for the people here.”
Avdijaj has had a fairly nomadic start to his football career, but he has always been attached to reputable clubs. In addition to Schalke, he has been owned by Dutch side Willem II and Turkish outfit Trabzonspor, while he has also been on loan at Sturm Graz of Austria and Eredivisie side Roda JC. Hearts are the sixth club of his senior career to date.
“Some people might question it because I’ve now had six teams in three years but I would say it has been a crazy experience and I learned a lot,” he said. “In most of the teams I had a good time. I’ve played now in five countries and I can speak five languages. I’ve experienced different foods, different people, different cultures, different stadiums, different fans. For 23 years old, that is not a bad experience.
“I’ve experienced lots of different types of football and I’ve scored in every country I’ve played in. This mix can help me for my next games at Hearts. I’m looking forward to showing myself and I hope I can find my best form as fast as I can. I hope to settle for a longer period at Hearts but first we have one mission - after we take this mission successfully we can talk.”
The mission, of course, is to avoid relegation, with Hearts five points adrift of safety. Avdijaj, who will wear shirt No.99 as his beloved younger brother was born in 1999, is confident about his new team’s prospects. “The thing is, I think the team has more quality than the table says,” he said. “The other thing is that when they get a winter signing, they get someone who is going to make a difference and who will try to help them. That is my job here. I am going to try to do everything to help us out of this position. I am not the only one. I think we have a lot of players here who can help do that and who have the quality to get us out of this place.”