A six-month loan in Scotland brings Genero Zeefuik one step closer to his ultimate career aim – a permanent contract with a club in England.
First, he must impress at Hearts and hope to attract attention from south of the Border through goals and positive performances.
The 24-year-old Dutchman arrived in Edinburgh last week on loan from FC Groningen. As revealed in yesterday’s Evening News, he is surplus to requirements at his parent club and therefore hopes to secure a permanent move through his efforts with Hearts. These next few months may well be the most important of his career so far.
He outlined today that England has always been his target and he believes playing in Scotland, albeit in the second tier, could provide a stepping stone. He started well last weekend with a two debut goals as Hearts thrashed Dumbarton 5-1 at the Bet Butler Stadium, but sterner tests await.
Any potential suitor will judge Zeefuik on how he fares up against bigger clubs, starting this Friday against Rangers at Ibrox. He is expected to lead the Hearts forward line in a game which could all but finish the Glasgow club’s slender hopes of overhauling their Edinburgh rivals at the top of the league. Zeefuik knows exactly what is required.
“I’m here for six months and I want to play games and score a lot of goals for Hearts,” said the former Netherlands Under-21 internationalist. “When I arrived, the manager [Robbie Neilson] said to me: ‘You’re a big guy, you can hold the ball for us.’ He wants me to hold it for two or three seconds until other players like [Jamie] Walker or Sam [Nicholson] come towards me. They can run around me so if I hold the ball then we can go forward better as a team.
“I was very nervous on Saturday. I scored the two goals and I think the supporters love me now. For me, it was very important that I played a good game. That is better than scoring two goals. It was the first game for me and I was happy to play so well. I scored two goals but I was disappointed not to get a hat-trick by missing the penalty.
“I don’t know, maybe I’m going to stay here. At the end of the season, I go back to Holland. Maybe they want to keep me there or maybe I can come [back] here. Maybe I will go to another club. I’m not sure right now. I hope to play in England. If I can stay here next year maybe that can happen.”
One of the first people Zeefuik called when he heard of Hearts’ interest was his former Groningen team-mate Virgil van Dijk – a player attracting his own interest from England at the moment. “I hope to do the same as Virgil,” continued the striker. “I am here for a half-season now and I hope to score lots of goals, play well and maybe get a move to England. I have one year after this on my contract at Groningen but I want to impress other clubs.
“I think every little boy dreams of playing in the English Premier League and that is what I want to do. I want to do the same as Virgil, assuming he will go to England in the end.”
The penalty miss at Dumbarton denied him a hat-trick but he isn’t likely to let it distract him too much. His new team-mates, however, have already taken steps to ensure there is no repeat. “I have only ever scored a hat-trick with the national team, never in club football. After the penalty, my team-mates just said: ‘Now, if we get a penalty again, you’re not going to take it!’”
Penalties for visiting teams at Ibrox are known to be as rare as hen’s teeth so Zeefuik may not have that issue to deal with on Friday. He admits nerves are again likely to set in due to the magnitude of the occasion.
Hearts would virtually end Rangers’ title challenge with a win and, in turn, all but guarantee promotion back to Scotland’s top flight.
Players at Riccarton won’t say as much or even think as much before the match but the reality is clear for anyone who looks at the league table. Zeefuik knows the stakes are high and he is ready to put his body on the line for his new team.
“Rangers have a great stadium at Ibrox with 50,000 people. It will be amazing on a Friday night.
“I said I was nervous before Dumbarton, it will be even more against Rangers. I hope I can play and make more goals in such an important match. I like to make war,” he smiled. “I want to battle with the defenders, that is my job. That will be my job against Rangers.
“In Holland you have time on the ball and it is not too physical. Virgil told me that in Scotland the ball is up and down, up and down. He warned me that I would be very tired after my first game and that I would need to run a lot.”
There was no shortage of effort from the striker on his debut. He explained that he knew a little about what to expect.
“When my manager called me to say Hearts wanted me, I went to Google straight away and I saw a good club with great fans,” he said.
“I called Alim [Ozturk] and Soufian [El Hassnaoui] and they said, if possible, I should come to Hearts and it is a good club with everything – the fans, the team, the stadium.
“Virgil also told me Hearts are a very good team. He told me he thought they would be in the top league next year. It was a very easy decision. I am 24 years old and I need to play games.”
He will definitely get that at Hearts.
How he copes will determine his next career move.