Alim Ozturk played through the pain barrier last season in search of Championship glory but having put his body on the line to help his team into the top flight, the Hearts captain is frustrated that his experiences of that league have been curtailed.
Troubled with a hernia problem for almost a year, he took painkilling injections to mask the pain on match days, suffered through the agonies of the aftermath and struggled through training as the Gorgie club looked to bounce straight back up to the Premiership.
“I’ve had the pain since January, February,” said the Dutchman, who joined the rest of the Hearts squad on a visit to the capital’s Royal Hospital for Sick Children yesterday. “I played with painkillers and injections to win the league, that was the most important thing. And we did as well. I took injections every week. You could say it was stupid but that moment it was for the team because we were in a really good position. I spoke to the club and we said if I help them then we’ll do the surgery when the season is finished.
“When I took the painkillers it was all right when I played the games, but two days after it was so painful. I trained without and the games with painkillers. It was three months of that really,” added the centre-back, who was recruited by manager Robbie Neilson during his first summer in charge and was installed as captain following the departure of fellow defender Danny Wilson at the end of last season
“At that time you want to play. It was maybe stupid but the feeling was that I had to do it. It’s a good lesson for me as well. I’m not going to do it again.”
The 23-year-old eventually went under the knife in May, in the hope he would be back, pain free for the new campaign. He managed to play ten games between July and September but, still experiencing discomfort, he admitted defeat and underwent further surgery in October.
“The physio said the pain after the first surgery was normal, the gaffer said to me as well that he got the same surgery and that I would feel it a bit. It was the first surgery for me as well, I had none before. I had no experience with it. I believed in them.
“The first few weeks were all right, I had no pain, but after four, five weeks it was coming again. The physios and everyone said that was normal because I had had surgery. I thought, ‘okay’ but then every week it got worse. I thought it wasn’t good, I had too much pain and I had another surgery. I’ve had two now.
“The first surgery was in May, the second was October. It was five months between surgeries and I don’t think that’s right.”
Following the second operation, he chose to recuperate and carry out his rehabilitation back home in Holland and this time the improvement has been swift. “I was five or six weeks in Holland. It was really good for me, it was so annoying that I couldn’t play and being with family makes it a bit easier. I went every day to the physio in Amsterdam, they helped me a lot. When I came back I went to the games and did the last part of my recovery here. I’m the captain of the club so I had the feeling I must go [to support his colleagues]. But it has been annoying.
“It was my own idea to go back to Holland, I wanted to try something else. I knew the physio in Holland was really good, that’s nothing against the physios here but I feel more comfortable. I got the first surgery and felt more pain so I thought I would try something else.”
Back in training and with a full under-20s match under his belt, he is easing his way back and hopes to be putting pressure on the current centre-backs soon. “I played 90 minutes on Wednesday and I felt good. It’s a bit stiff but that’s normal. I’m almost there,” he said. “It has taken me longer than I thought it would to get back. But it’s fixed now.”
In his absence Hearts have kept the pressure on Aberdeen and Celtic and managed to fend off the advances of St Johnstone but with a busy festive period on the horizon he hopes to earn a return to the team.
“I’m not surprised [the squad have done so well] because I know we have a good team, good players. But I’m really happy. I’ve got confidence in myself and I think if I’m 100 per cent fit I’ll come back,” he added. “I’m going to make it really hard for them.”