New Hearts signing ready to ignore reputations and makes Rangers-Celtic gap claim

His Hearts manager has been open about the expectation of victory against Rangers today.

Orestis Kiomourtzoglou during a Hearts press conference at the Oriam, on September 29, 2022, in Edinburgh, Scotland.  (Photo by Mark Scates / SNS Group)
Orestis Kiomourtzoglou during a Hearts press conference at the Oriam, on September 29, 2022, in Edinburgh, Scotland. (Photo by Mark Scates / SNS Group)

At home, backed by a sell-out crowd, Robbie Neilson believes his Gorgie side have the beating of last season’s league runners up. Orestis Kiomourtzoglou agrees.

The German Under-21 international has had plenty of time to size up the merits of his team-mates and the rest of the Scottish top tier as he waited for the wheels of bureaucracy to turn slowly and rubber stamp his switch from the Dutch leagues and personal history has taught him that reputations are there to be ignored, especially when boating home advantage.

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“In the Netherlands I played against Ajax and Feyenoord, PSV, AZ Alkmaar. I played with Germany’s under-21s against Spain and Belgium,” said Kiomourtzoglou.

“With my old team we beat Ajax 1-0 at home, we drew another game 0-0 and lost another 2-1.

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“But if you play them in their stadium with a smaller team it is a lot harder and we lost 4-0.

“I scored my first goal in the Netherlands in De Kuip against Feyenoord when we drew 1-1, so I have some experience. I know what it is like to play against big teams.

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“I have played against some big players, too – every year Ajax sell their best players to all the big teams around the world. So I have played some big names but for me that’s not important. When I am on the pitch I just want to win, it doesn’t matter who is my opponent.

“I would like to make a name for myself here. I am not just here to play and for people to forget me! Everybody wants to be the best version of themselves. I try to give everything on the pitch for my team-mates and fans.”

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The early signs are promising. Making his competitive debut in the starting line-up against Motherwell prior to the international break, the 24-year-old midfielder did not look like a newcomer, as he made a solid impact.

“Everything is faster. My first game here everything was up/down, up/down. I like it. That’s one of the reasons I came here. It’s my type of football.

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“It wasn’t a shock to me because before I came here I searched a lot and talked a lot to people and I expected this.

“In the Netherlands it is more technical, not really based on the result. Here it is all about the result, you have to win.”

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Familiar with the Scottish style, the protracted wait to play, was infuriating but it was also educational and allowed him to prepare for his eventual introduction.

“It was frustrating because I was sitting at home unable to do anything because the paperwork was not done. But on the other side it was good because I had time to learn everyone’s names and know how we want to play as a team.”

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Another huge week in the club’s quest for improvement, this afternoon’s match against Rangers is a statement game for both sides, as they jostle for position at the top end of the league table and ready themselves for a return to European action next week.

“Of course there is a gap between Celtic and Rangers and the other teams but I don’t think it is so big from us,” said Kiomourtzoglou, who answers to Kio, aware that should save fans who are thinking of getting his name on their tops a few quid. “Over the last season, and also now with European games, we can show we can also play at this level.”

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Win by a goal and they draw level with Rangers in second place, win by a bigger margin and they leapfrog them. But, so tight are things at the top of the Premiership table, should they lose and they could tumble several league spots.

“For sure. Everyone is looking forward to these games. We are playing at home, so we have quite a good chance to win.

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“I know them from watching TV and seeing them in the Champions League. They beat PSV to reach the Champions League, but then they lost to Ajax.

“They didn’t do so good the last time [against Napoli] and after us they play Liverpool at Anfield, so they will have pressure on their shoulders when they come to us.”

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That means that while the lunchtime game is huge for Hearts, there is plenty at stake for Giovanni van Bronckhorst’s men, too, as victory would see them move into top spot for at least a few hours – Celtic kick-off against Motherwell at 3pm.

Finding a way to prevent that will be tough as Hearts contend with absentees and players recovering from knocks or the exertions of international duty. But, Kio already recognises the merits of the Tynecastle crowd.

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“The fans are really important. This will be my first home match [playing] but I’ve sat in the crowd for games and every situation, every tackle, the fans celebrate and scream and you see the team get pushed.

“It’s different to football in the Netherlands. Here the fans live football. In the Netherlands they want to see really good dribbling, and nice goals. Of course, they want to see that in Scotland too but if you win the ball in midfield and play the ball forward and the crowd cheers.

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“It’s how I want to play football. I am a guy who likes to run, tackle and scream. The game in Scotland will be good for me.

“I made the step from the third division in Germany to the first league in the Netherlands and that was a big step. It was good to play there for three years and improve and now is the perfect time to make the next step and go to a higher level again.

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“Hearts as a club is a much higher level and there are European games as welI. I want to show I can play at this level.”