Orestis Kiomourtzoglou reflects on whirlwind start to Hearts career, adapting to cinch Premiership and why VAR could 'destroy' Scottish football
Chucked into the deep end with 11 appearances in the space of eight weeks after his registration was finally confirmed, there’s not been much time to adapt for Hearts’ final six-figure signing of the summer transfer window.
Orestis Kiomourtzoglou (or Kio for short) was immediately instilled into the starting XI once the work permit was granted which allowed his move from Heracles to be finalised. The German midfielder played his part in a 3-0 away win at Motherwell and it’s been a whirlwind ever since.
Playing in the UK for the first time, he didn’t arrive with a support network of friends or family. Thankfully his new club-mates rallied round to help him feel more like home, a feeling which should be strengthened after the winter break when his other half joins him in Scotland’s capital after a well-earned holiday to her home in the Netherlands while the cinch Premiership takes an extended break.
"The squad accepted me really fast. They're all very good to me,” Kio told the Evening News.
“I like Edinburgh a lot. It's a nice city. I've had a few of the guys helping me out because my missus isn't here. Cooking and cleaning at home has been a little bit difficult. But I'll have everything once I come back from the holiday. She's going to move over and live with me after the break for the World Cup.”
On the one hand he’s living in a different city, learning a new culture in a foreign county, and on the other he’s having to adjust to a new style of football on the fly. Having only played in Germany and the Netherlands before, the rough-and-tumble nature of the Scottish game isn’t exactly something he’s familiar with.
There’s even a different emphasis on how a team adapts to moments in a particular match, something Kio found the most surprising after moving to Tynecastle.
“It's a different type of football to the Netherlands and Germany, but I like it,” he said.
“In the Netherlands, in the Eredivisie, there's a lot more tactics. Here of course there are tactics as well, but if you lose a goal you just keep playing the same tactics. If you score a goal you just keep playing the same tactics. I think the result is really important here, though obviously it's important anywhere.
“It's a lot more physical. There are more long balls depending on which team you play. I think we try to play more football. Like against Livingston, we were trying to play football and they were trying to play long. It's also quite a bit faster.
“It's been tough because there's been so many games, sometimes two or even three in the space of a week. Then there's the travelling, flying, playing in European games, and the tough competition.”
Kio has looked the part in some games but has sometimes seen the action pass him by in others, leading supporters to wonder whether a transfer sum and a three-year contract was a wise investment from the club. But considering the changes he’s had to go through in such a short span it is no surprise there have been some growing pains. The 24-year-old still has his prime years well ahead of him and is eager to learn and develop every day.
“Especially in training the coaches and the gaffer talk with me, telling me what I can do better and even the things that I don't need to focus on as much. There's a lot of communication, which is exactly what you want,” he said.
“Every training session they talk with us. Every game we analyse it. Every game you can analyse yourself by watching back, seeing what you did well and what you didn't and how you can improve.”
Of Greek descent but born in Munich, Kio is rooting for his home nation to bring back another World Cup trophy to add to their glittering collection. After the opening-match shock defeat to Japan they’ve dropped down to 28/1 to win the tournament, though Germany always tend to have a way of fighting their way to the latter stages.
One of many downsides of the World Cup in Qatar has been the continual intervention of VAR. Even at the highest level with several video assistants monitoring the action there is still often a significant delay, as evidenced by the time it took to (correctly) disallow Kai Havertz’s goal in what would prove to be a pivotal moment in the Japan loss.
If they still can’t get it right at the highest level, what chances are there that Scottish football’s budget version improves significantly after the World Cup break following a spate of controversial calls following it’s introduction? Kio has his doubts but very much adopts the ‘hey, what can you do?’ mindset about it all.
“With VAR, I think it maybe destroys a little bit of Scottish football,” he said. “Because of the speed I think you'll maybe see a lot more penalties and red cards. But OK, it's only five games into it. It takes a bit of time for it to get better.
“I don't really have an opinion on it because what difference would it make? It's not going to change it. I'm not the guy who makes the rules, those are the people above us. We just have to play and accept what comes in football.
“It's quite frustrating just standing around. Also, at the end of the first half against Livingston I'm sure we could have got at least one penalty for handball. The ref says he's checking it and it takes two minutes when it's quite clear there's a hand on the ball. But you have to trust the referee when he says he's adding the time on at the end. As players we just have to accept it because we can't change anything.”