Aaron Hughes and Lennard Sowah complete move to Hearts
New Tynecastle manager Ian Cathro has made the veteran centre-half and former Hamilton left-back Lennard Sowah his first two signings after handing both men deals until the end of the season.
Hughes, 37, is Northern Ireland’s most capped player having made 104 appearances for Michael O’Neill’s side.
He starred for his country during their run to the Euro 2016 second round and made his last appearance against world champions Germany while playing his club football with Indian Super League outfit Kerala Blasters.
But the former Newcastle United, Aston Villa and Fulham defender believes he needs to be playing at a higher standard every week if he is to continue to feature in international football.
Hughes told HeartsTV: “With the current World Cup campaign, I was hoping to come back and play at a level that is going to help keep me involved with the national team. That was the idea about coming back to the UK.
“Hopefully, if I can play and do well, that will keep me consistent and enable me to stay involved with Northern Ireland too.”
Hughes will link up with O’Neill’s former assistant Austin MacPhee, who is now number two to Cathro at Hearts, after securing his move to Edinburgh.
“Austin was the first point of contact,” he revealed. “When he first mentioned it, it was certainly something I was interested in. It’s gone back and forward for a couple of weeks but I’m delighted to have finally got it signed.”
Hughes will take former Hearts skipper Alim Ozturk’s place in Cathro’s squad after he was allowed to depart Tynecastle.
The 24-year-old negotiated his release from Hearts over the weekend and has now signed an 18-month deal with Turkish second-tier side Boluspor.
Ozturk helped Hearts storm to the Ladbrokes Championship title during his first season at the club and then captained the side as they finished third on their return to the top-flight. But he has rarely featured this term, with John Souttar and Igor Rossi so far being preferred at the heart of the Gorgie defence.
A club spokesman said: “Alim will forever be remembered in Gorgie for his last-minute, 40-yard screamer that broke Hibs’ hearts at Easter Road in October 2014, securing the Jambos a point and helping to maintain an unbeaten record that lasted nearly seven months.
“The club would like to thank Alim for his time at Hearts and wish him all the best with his career in the future.”
Former Portsmouth youngster Sowah, meanwhile, clinched his move to Tynecastle just days after quitting Accies.
The 24-year-old spent a period with the Arsenal youth academy before coming through the ranks at Pompey and made a handful of Premier League appearances before spells with Hamburg in Germany and Danish side Vestsjaelland, arriving at Hamilton on a short-term deal in October.
Sowah played seven times for Martin Canning’s side, including a brief appearance against Hearts in the thrilling 3-3 draw at New Douglas Park earlier this season.
“I came on for the last two or three minutes in the draw at New Douglas Park,” he said. “It was clear then that it (Hearts) was a good team. It wasn’t an easy game on the astroturf but Hearts did well to come back to get 3-3.”
Having left Accies last week after his deal expired, Sowah is already eyeing a long-term stay at Tynecastle and said: “That is definitely the aim.
“I’ve felt right at home in Scotland. I’ve played in the UK before down in England – I was only 17 or 18 when I played down there, it was definitely very exciting but that’s in the past. I’m here now and that’s all I’m focused on. I love the passion they have here.
“It wasn’t such an easy decision to come to Hearts because I’d only played three months at Hamilton. But when I got the offer I was really excited about it. I think it’s the right decision to sign for Hearts.
“My favourite position is left-back but I can also play in the middle or out on the wing. But left-back is where I prefer to play and I will do my very best to help the team succeed.”
Meanwhile, Hearts’ Under-20 coach Jon Daly has also recruited two new players.
Wojciech Gajda, an 18-year-old ex-New York Red Bulls goalkeeper and attacker Zidan Akers, also 18 and formerly of Reading, have both signed contracts which will keep them at Tynecastle until May 2018 following successful trial periods with the club.