Aged 25 and with the ink still drying on a two-year deal with Hearts, goalkeeper Viktor Noring has plenty of time left to secure what he most wants – regular first-team football.
Whether it will come at Tynecastle remains to be seen. Head coach Robbie Neilson yesterday conceded that when Hearts sign a player in his mid-20s on a free transfer there is always likely to be some risk attached.
“Most of the guys who come here are like that,” said Neilson. “You look at (Alim) Ozturk, he had only played 12 or 15 games when he arrived. We know the level we’re at. There has to be some issue there and the issue with Viktor is he hasn’t played a lot of first-team games for his age. We’re hoping he comes here and competes. Then it’s up to him to get in the team to get more games.”
Noring looks an impressive individual. Standing at 6ft 5in, he seems well equipped to dominate his area. As well as Hearts fans, there will be another interested observer in Noring’s progress: Hibs manager Neil Lennon.
It was Lennon who first brought Noring to Scotland, signing him for Celtic three years ago on a six-month loan deal from Trelleborgs FF. This was the Swedish goalkeeper’s first move abroad and he described it as an eye-opening and at times frustrating experience.
The day after he put pen to paper he sat and watched Celtic playing Juventus in a last-16 Champions League clash. The experience underlined to him he was in the right place. But with Fraser Forster and Lukasz Zaluska ahead of him in the queue, he had to be content with his inclusion in just one first-team squad – for a match away at Ross County.
Noring’s link with the Parkhead club means he is doubly determined to have wrested the No 1 jersey from rival Jack Hamilton before Hearts kick off their league season against Celtic at Tynecastle on 7 August.
“I don’t think I have anything to prove to Celtic because when I was there I think I did well in training,” he said. “But it’s about me showing to myself that I’m good at this level.”
He didn’t display too much interest in the fact that he and Lennon are now both in Edinburgh. “It’s not ironic he’s in the same city,” he shrugged. “He’s been at Bolton and now he’s back at Hibs. I think it’s a good opportunity for him also. You speak to your goalkeeping coach (Steve Woods) more because he is the one you’re working with all day, every day. There was more contact with him.”
Lennon did offer Noring the opportunity to remain with Celtic longer. But the keeper assessed his chances and decided to move on. However, he has since found it just as hard to secure a No 1 jersey at SC Heerenveen and Lyngby BK.
“I had a chance to stay at Celtic, I was there for six months and there was an option to stay on,” he recalled. “We decided with the club and me that it was better for me to find somewhere else that I could play because they had Fraser on a long-term deal and Lukasz was also there. It was the best solution for me.”
But now he believes Scottish football could be his ideal environment. “When I was here in Scotland the last time I got the feeling Scottish football suited me pretty well as a player,” he said.
“I’m a big, physical guy and I like to command my box. That’s why I made sure to come back because it suits me better I think.”
But there is still a hurdle to overcome to secure first-team football: Jack Hamilton, pictured left, who has been told by Neilson he is No 1 choice, for now. Since Noring has been unable to become an established first-choice at any of his previous clubs, there must be some doubt about his ability to do so at Hearts.
Noring accepts he might have to wait for his opportunity. “Every footballer wants to play,” said Noring. “Jack has been here a few years so it’s been hard for me to play in the Europa League games. It’s about coming in and settling in and try to perform on the pitch when I get my chance.”
Neilson expects a ferocious battle for a starting shirt, something that can only benefit Hearts. “It’s important every player who comes in wants to be part of it,” said Neilson. “There’s no point bringing players in who are just going to be in the reserves or not playing. I spoke to Jack when I made the decision to say I was going to bring someone else in to compete with him. I told him to make sure he keeps pushing hard to keep that No 1 jersey.”