ALIM OZTURK would instantly have scribbled his signature on a Hearts contract last summer if offered the position he now finds himself in.
His club are top of the league and could be champions before the month is out. Added to that, Ozturk has become a cult hero amongst the Tynecastle support after scoring three raking goals from distance during a memorable campaign.
He isn’t finished there. The title has yet to be secured and he would like to reach the five-goal mark in the ten remaining games. Nonetheless, the Turk is thriving in the most enjoyable campaign of his young career to date.
“When I came here, I didn’t expect this,” said the 22-year-old. “I knew about the club and they wanted to go up. If you said to me that, with ten games left, we would be top and only lost one game, I would sign for that. It’s happened now. It’s been my most enjoyable season so far. For a defender, if you score three times in one year, it’s good.
“The feeling we had from the first game – we won against Rangers and then we won week after week – that gives you confidence. The season is really long so you can’t say anything after one game but it gives you a good feeling. You play the first two games against Rangers and Hibs and, if you take six points, that’s a really good start.”
Ozturk’s first Hearts goal arrived in October – a 40-yard screamer to equalise in the dying seconds against Hibs at Easter Road. He has since scored from distance against Raith Rovers and in the 10-0 win over Cowdenbeath earlier this month.
“I scored one goal against Hibs and that was the start,” he explained. “I hear the fans a lot of times now saying ‘shoot, shoot’. I know I can shoot from everywhere, it’s just a feeling. I smile when I hear them. Against Cowdenbeath after I scored, I got the ball inside my own box and again they were shouting ‘shoot, shoot’. You have a laugh a little bit.
“The manager said to me if I can have a go then just do it. It’s the same for Danny [Wilson] on the other side. If you see nobody in front of you, you think: ‘Why not?’ I did it against Hibs and it was a wonderful goal.”
It would seem Ozturk has more freedom to display his shooting power at Hearts than previous clubs. He played in the Netherlands with his formative club SC Cambuur before moving to Turkey, where he spent last season with Trabzonspor’s B team.
“I scored a free-kick from really far out last year in Turkey. You know you can do it but you must have a chance to do it,” said Ozturk. “I take a lot of free-kicks here and I have hit the post twice and the bar once. You think I could be on five goals but there is still time for me. Only against Rangers away did I hit a hard free-kick. The other ones I used technique and I was a little bit unlucky.”
Ozturk’s friends in foreign countries keep tabs on Hearts, particularly in the Netherlands given Genero Zeefuik, Kenny Anderson and Soufian El Hassnaoui all came to Edinburgh from Dutch clubs.
The recent 10-0 destruction of Cowdenbeath caused a few ripples on the other side of the North Sea.
“Friends follow us and they say: ‘Ten-nil. What are you doing?’ They think 10-0 is an easy game but I tell them it’s not easy. We played really well,” said Ozturk. “Friends sometimes say Scottish football must be easy but I tell them we have a really good team and hungry players. It’s not easy.
“Games like Dumbarton away, Cowdenbeath away, Livingston away are really hard. It’s not as easy as they think.
“People expect that you’re going to win and win easily. When teams play compact, it’s really difficult. The Hibs and Rangers games are hard but when you play the small teams people think it’s easy and it’s not.”