BY IAIN COLLIN – @CCP_sport
THE PRE-SEASON grind can be gruelling enough for footballers but Hearts skipper Alim Ozturk has an extra reason to find the return to training particularly wearisome.
The Turkish defender is currently observing the Islamic holy month of Ramadan, during which Muslims fast in daylight hours.
Going without food and drink at the height of summer would ordinarily be a tall enough order, without throwing in the kind of intensive fitness work expected of players as they bid to get themselves back up to speed in time for the new campaign.
In Hearts’ case, the competitive action kicks off with a home Europa League qualifier against FC Infonet next Thursday, resulting in the squad returning to their hard slog last week.
And Ozturk, who is being joined by new signing Faycal Rherras in observing Ramadan, which lasts until July 5, has revealed the special measures he has had to adopt to ensure he follows one of the Five Pillars of Islam – and the rigours of Hearts’ training regime.
“You can eat from 10 p.m. to 3 a.m. but you can’t have anything all day,” explained the 23-year-old. “At 10 p.m. the sport scientists organise food for me and Faycal and we try to eat a lot in the evening.
“I get up around 2.30 a.m. to 3 a.m. to get food so I need to go to sleep as early as possible.
“It can be hard when the training sessions are tough. When that happens I drink and eat. I will also try to eat on match days, but in training I try to keep to Ramadan as much as I can.
“It makes it easier for me when it is raining but when it is so hot it is too hard to do. My first session was harder but with the weather just now it is easier.
“You feel it when you have had hard sessions. Your health is very important and if you feel it is not good for your body then you are allowed to eat and drink.
“I did that on Monday when I felt like I can’t (do this) any more and I had to have a drink. I believe in God and he will help me with this. My religion is very important, it is the most important thing for me.”
Keeping Ozturk going, and the rest of this team-mates, is the excitement that is building surrounding the club’s return to Europe for the first time since they faced the might of Liverpool four years ago.
“Personally, when you come back for pre-season, you know it will be tough and there will be hard sessions,” added the Netherlands-born defender, who is hoping he has put behind him the injury problems that plagued him last season.
“But we play in Europe and that is a really big thing, and I think as a player you want this, so it makes it a bit easier.”