Osman Sow scoring a debut winning goal for Henan Jianye was no surprise to Tynecastle regulars. The giant forward from Stockholm did just that on his Hearts league bow at Ibrox.
One vital ingredient was missing on Saturday when he struck in the 31st minute inside the Zhengzhou Hanghai Stadium. “Oh, oh, oh it’s magic” didn’t blast through the tannoy. The Chinese will need to get up to speed.
Serigne Osman Petter Sow is now a part of Hearts’ history, and a highly revered part at that. Scoring the only goal against Shanghai SIPG in the first game of the 2016 Chinese Super League simply reinforced what is already common knowledge in Edinburgh: Sow is a huge asset who can produce something out of nothing when his team needs it.
When Shanghai goalkeeper Yan Junling parried a shot from Sow’s new striking partner, the Filipino Javier Patino, the Swede instinctively rushed in to convert the follow up. He is likely to prove £1million well spent by the multi-millionaire Henan Jianye chairman Hu Baosen.
The player is still adapting to a very different life in eastern China but knows he would not be there were it not for Hearts. Had he not accepted a trial at Tynecastle almost two years ago, there’s no telling where he would have ended up. Ultimately, moving to Scotland breathed life into a stagnating career after he left Crystal Palace without playing a game. Sow doesn’t forget this in conversation. His gratitude towards Craig Levein and Robbie Neilson is a recurring topic.
He endeared himself to Hearts fans with the winning goal against Rangers on his league debut and has now repeated that feat in China. He has spent four weeks in Asia, so it’s a good time to reflect on the biggest move of his career so far.
“Yes, it is the biggest. Hopefully with Henan Jianye we can finish as high as possible but it’s hard to tell. We have got a good team and a good manager, so I am looking forward to the league. I signed for two years,” said Sow in an exclusive Evening News interview. “It’s always nice to get a good start, so three points is great. It was a good team performance against a good team here in China. And it’s always nice to get off the mark as early as possible.”
Another Gorgie favourite, Ryan McGowan, is keeping him company. “He is a good guy and he’s been in China before so it’s really helpful to have him here. He’s got a couple of jokes on him as well. For now, I am here alone. I think my family will visit. The foreign players stay in a hotel, which is really nice. It’s got everything so I can’t complain at all. You can stay in a flat if you want. I think Chinese football is on the way up so I am happy I got the chance to come over here. I’m excited the league has started so I’m just gonna try to make the most of it.”
It didn’t take Sow long to decide to join a rapidly growing league employing world-renowned stars like Ramires, Ezequiel Lavezzi and Luiz Felipe Scolari. Which is just as well, because he wasn’t given much of a window to make the choice. “I heard about it first on the bus on the way to the Inverness game, the one which got postponed [on January 30]. I had to let it sink in a bit, but I had to act quickly so I just made my mind up and went for it.”
Two days later, he was on a flight out of Britain heading to Beijing for a medical. At 25, he expected his next move would be south for another crack at England. “Yeah, something in that way, but after this came up I had to make my mind up quickly. 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.”
Back at Tynecastle that weekend, Sow said his goodbyes on the pitch before the Scottish Cup tie against Hibs. At that stage he was still a Hearts player and desperately wanted to be involved, but the risk was too great given the fee involved.
“Of course I wanted to play,” he said. “I always want to play football and especially this type of game, but I had been flying for a week so it wasn’t meant to be. All the fans I met were really nice to me and wishing me good luck. They have supported me from the start, so I want to thank them for that. I hope I was able to give something back.
“I am grateful to Robbie, Craig and the staff who showed faith in me and I am glad I got the opportunity to play at Tynecastle in front of good supporters. I had a difficult year behind me so I am thankful I got the opportunity to get back on my feet at Hearts.”
Which prompts the question of where might he be now had he not turned up for that trial outing in a pre-season friendly against East Fife in July 2014? “Ha, ha, it’s hard to tell. When I was speaking to Robbie and Craig, I made my mind up early that Hearts was where I wanted to be at that time. What they were saying made sense, they explained where the club had been and what their ambition was. I am thankful I got the chance to be a part of that.
“I don’t want to look too long in the future. I’m just trying to live in the moment and make the most of each day but definitely it would be nice to return to the UK one day. Tynecastle and the Hearts fans will always give me good feelings.”
He left supporters with plenty memories, like raking 30-yarders against Motherwell and Celtic this season. His own favourite was a well-remembered goal in the Championship. “I think Rangers away and that first goal last season. It was the first game of the season, I didn’t really know much of the league or Scotland in general. So it was nice to start in a good way.”
He seems to be making a habit of that.