BY ALAN TEMPLE – Capital City Press
Hearts head coach Robbie Neilson has told Alim Ozturk that he must become a “role model” after handing the young defender the captaincy.
The 22-year-old was this week confirmed as the successor to Danny Wilson ahead of experienced campaigners such as Neil Alexander and last season’s vice-skipper Morgaro Gomis.
Showing admirable self-awareness, Ozturk immediately vowed to grow up as a player after acknowledging a habit of picking up silly bookings and hassling referees.
And Neilson, who insists his choice was a popular one among the squad, expects to see Ozturk thrive with the armband.
The Tynecastle boss said: “He is well respected in the dressing room and I respect him as a player.
“I think the captaincy will help him progress and he’ll be a good choice. It gives him the extra responsibility – it will benefit Alim as well as the team.
“He has a responsibility to be a role model for the team and for the fans and that will help him.
“Neil [Alexander] is part of the coaching staff, so that ruled him out a wee bit and I always feel it is good to have a centre-back or a defensive players as your captain – someone who can see the whole pitch.”
Hearts’ defensive options were further bolstered on Wednesday evening as former Maritimo and Internacional defender Igor Rossi Branco arrived in the capital.
The towering 26-year-old, who boasts Europa League experience from his time in Portugal, has penned a one-year deal with the Jambos and could make his debut in Sunday’s friendly against Everton.
Neilson continued: “He was put to us a few weeks ago and we had a look. We spoke to a few people in Portugal and I was pleased with what I heard and saw. He’ll do well for us.
“He’s predominantly a centre-back who can cover at left-back. He’s suited to the British game because he is quite physical, he’s good in the air and he’s physical.”
Brazilian Branco has, however, only played 60 games in four years with Maritimo, with almost half of them for the club’s ‘B’ squad, which plies its trade in the second tier.
Neilson explained: “He had a knee problem a couple of years ago. It’s a case of having to try and manage that, similar to Blazej [Augustyn].
“Like most of the players we get, he’s a good player, he’s played in the Europa League and in the Portuguese top-flight. But there’s always going to be an issue if you get a player like that to come to Scotland.”
Sunday’s visit of the Toffees will be Hearts’ final pre-season test ahead of next Thursday’s League Cup opener against Arbroath, with tickets on sale at the stadium until kick-off.
He added: “It’s a great game for us to have. It’s good for the fans and for the players and we’re really looking forward to getting back to Tynecastle.”