GÉNERO Zeefuik was polite, softly spoken and undemonstrative when he addressed the media yesterday – but there was no mistaking the menace in his words.
Hearts’ loan signing showed some subtle touches in his two-goal debut against Dumbarton on Saturday, but knows perfectly well that his primary task is to use physical power to wear down opposing defences.
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“I like to make war,” the 24-year-old Dutchman said. “I want to battle with the defenders – that is my job. That will be my job against Rangers.
“Rangers have a great stadium at Ibrox, with 50,000 in there. It will be amazing on a Friday night. I said I was nervous before Dumbarton… it will be even more against Rangers. But I hope I can play and make more goals in such an important match.”
One glance at the Championship table shows just how important that game could be. Already 13 points ahead of the second-placed Glasgow club, Hearts will surely be uncatchable if they win on Friday and even a draw will be a moral victory for them, as it was in the recent Edinburgh derby against Hibernian.
By their own admission, Robbie Neilson’s team had been below their best for a few weeks before the Dumbarton game, and one obvious reason for that was their shortage of strikers. Osman Sow, Soufian El Hassnaoui and Dale Carrick have all been out injured and, while they are now close to making a comeback, they will have to fight to displace Zeefuik from the team if he continues to play as well as he did on his debut.
Although not particularly tall – certainly when compared to recent Hearts target men such as Michael Ngoo and Paul McCallum – Zeefuik has the strength to hold up play and the speed to get into scoring positions. His only obvious failing at the Bet Butler Stadium came when he was in the best scoring position of all – the penalty he missed when on a hat-trick.
“It was the first game for me, my debut for Hearts, and I was happy to play so well,” he said of the 5-1 win that extended his new club’s unbeaten league run to 20 games. “I scored two goals, but was disappointed not to get the hat-trick by missing the penalty – maybe next time.
“Before the game I was very nervous and was desperate to score goals. I’ve only ever scored a hat-trick with the national [under-21] team, never in club football. My team-mates just said: ‘Now, if we get a penalty again, you’re not going to take it!’ ”
When told by his manager at Groningen that Hearts were interested in taking him for the rest of the season, Zeefuik first checked out the club on line, then asked his fellow Dutchmen Alim Ozturk and El Hassnaoui if they would recommend their club to him. Perhaps the biggest influence on his decision, however, was the advice from another compatriot, Celtic defender Virgil van Dijk, who has been a good friend for some time.
“My manager called me to say Hearts wanted me. I went to Google straight away and I saw a good club with great fans. I called Alim and Soufian 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 van Dijk also told me Hearts are a very good team. It was a very easy decision. I am 24 years old and I need to play games.
“In Holland you have time on the ball and it’s 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.
“I hope to do the same as Virgil. 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 at Groningen, but I want to impress other clubs.
“I have known Virgil for six years. He is a good friend. He told me I needed to play and can’t sit on the bench any more. I think he will go to England – but I hope he stays at Celtic for a little longer so we can go out for meals and enjoy the city.
“I think every little boy dreams of playing in the English Premier League and that is what I want to do.”
Still, having dropped out of the first-team reckoning at Groningen, Zeefuik knows the priority is to play regularly for Hearts before he can seriously contemplate a move south of the Border. His debut performance showed he has settled in quickly, and he has been impressed by the happy, upbeat atmosphere in the dressing room.
“They are very good team-mates – they’re laughing all the time. They are very talented young players, and having Soufian and Alim, who can speak Dutch, is good for when there is something I don’t understand.”
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