Hearts captain Alim Ozturk dreams of lifting trophy

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WHEN Danny Wilson lifted the SPFL Championship trophy on 2 May, becoming the first Hearts captain since Jim Jefferies in 1980 to lead the club to a league title, Alim Ozturk was too wrapped up in his own celebrations to allow himself to dream of being the man sporting the armband on such an occasion.

That all changed yesterday when the popular defender was confirmed as the Jambos’ new skipper. An arrival from Trabzonspor last summer, Ozturk went on to make 36 appearances for the capital club during their march to the Championship title and cemented his place in derby-day folklore with a 40-yard wonder goal against Hibernian at Easter Road.

Alim Ozturk says being appointed as the new Hearts captain is "something special". Picture: Lisa Ferguson

Alim Ozturk says being appointed as the new Hearts captain is "something special". Picture: Lisa Ferguson

Having also emerged as a vocal leader in the dressing room, head coach Robbie Neilson handed him the armband after a period of deliberation in which he also considered Neil Alexander, Morgaro Gomis and Blazej Augustyn.

Along with the additional responsibilities which are inherent in the role comes the tantalising prospect of being the man to hoist silverware if Hearts put together a successful cup run.

“It will be hard to win a trophy, but it is an ambition, maybe even a dream of mine now,” he said with a smile. “You’re the first one who gets to lift the trophy up and it would be an amazing feeling. It’s in my mind now.

“When Danny Wilson was lifting the trophy last year I did not think to myself that I’d like to be in that position… but I am now.”

The revelation of that lofty ambition was a rare moment of self-indulgence by Ozturk, who cut a visibly humble figure as he spoke about Neilson’s decision.

The supporters’ affection for Ozturk, and vice-versa, was never in question. A 94th-minute equaliser against Hibs tends to foster a bond. However, at just 22, he is acutely aware that Neilson has handed him a massive responsibility ahead of several more experienced players.

Nevertheless, he is determined to embrace every aspect of the role, on and off the pitch, and expressed his desire to grow up as a player and a person in the coming campaign.

“The captaincy means a lot for me,” he continued. “It’s an honour and something special to captain a club of this size. I will do my best to represent Hearts as well as possible.

“A captain always has more responsibilities. Last year sometimes I’d get what I would call a stupid yellow card. If there were hard tackles on my team-mates I would go to the referee to argue.

“I need to be calm. I know it’s something I have to think about now. Robbie [Neilson] has told me I have more and more responsibility and that he believes in me. That will bring out the best in me.

“It will be my job to lead the team. We have a lot of young players and I hope to help them as well. I will have to do a lot of organising and extra duties off the field at Riccarton as well, but I am ready for that.

“I am still 22 but I feel I have a lot of experience for my age from playing in Turkey, Holland and now Scotland.”

The departure of Wilson is something of a sore spot among some fans, given his decision to pitch up at Ibrox, but Ozturk had words of praise for the Rangers defender as he reflected upon the influence of previous captains on his own style.

“Danny [Wilson] was a really good captain last year,” Ozturk continued. “He helped me a lot in my first year.

“When you are young you think about a lot of difficult things so it helps when you have a captain who has played a lot of football, knows the game and is able to help you. That is what I want to do for others.”

Ozturk, who underwent stomach surgery during the close season, has played just 25 minutes of pre-season action after limping off against Shelbourne during Hearts’ Irish training camp, but he expects to face Everton on Sunday and has assured supporters he will be ready to make his competitive bow as skipper in the League Cup against Arbroath in seven days’ time.

“I played 25 minutes but my thigh had a small problem,” he explained. “I have trained for the last week and I hope to start against Everton. I feel good and I hope to be able to lead the team out against Arbroath for my first match as captain.”