Alim Ozturk opens up in candid assessment of Sunderland career so far and bouncing back from selection disappointment
Alim Ozturk is reflecting on his Sunderland journey so far.
It’s been put to him that he must feel alot of pride in bouncing back from a fairly wretched start, and has now proven not once but twice that he is a player Jack Ross needs in his side.
Ozturk reaches for the word that best sums up those early days on Wearside.
It starts with s and can’t be printed here.
His absence from the XI was long, but he kept chipping away. Gradually, there were clear signs of improvement in the Checkatrade Trophy. They were games he would have been expected to be dominant in, but the way he kept highly-rated Elias Sorensen and a clutch of Manchester City youngsters quiet was notable.
Still, it was another three months until his chance came.
Against John Marquis, no less.
Ozturk kept it as simple as he possibly could and from that moment, he was a fixture. Ross could have not been firmer in his praise for his application during that difficult winter.
“Of course [I’m proud],” he said.
“I know had a terrible start last season.
“I couldn't recognise myself as a player. I didn't know what it was. I went home and would just be crazy. My wife would say, 'easy, it will come'.
“I was speaking with everyone, my brother, my family, my agent.
“I just couldn't work out what it was.
“I then had to wait a really long time to get a chance.
“I thought it could have come a little earlier but you have to accept the gaffer's decision. I got back in against Doncaster and I thought the games that I played after that I did well.”
So what was the secret to the revival?
“I always did what I've always done, I will never be someone who stops working hard even if I'm disappointed,” he said.
“I'll keep doing my stuff.
“You know you'll get a chance, injuries, red cards, things happen in football.
“You have to be ready and I was always ready.”
The Turk had expected to be integral when the new campaign began but he had suffered from a couple of setbacks. Firstly, a minor neck injury that stopped him takeing full part in the early stages of the pre-season campaign.
Secondly, a move to a system that Tom Flanagan was more familiar with and one in which Ross subsequently admitted he didn’t feel he could play both Ozturk and Willis in.
Now, they look his best option in a pair.
Ozturk has again proven his worth.
“I missed the first game with a neck injury, after that it was alright, I trained but not with the group,” he said.
“I could do straight runs but turning was a problem, so I missed a bit of training with the group.
“After that, I expected to start the season after a strong finish to the last one.
“I said to myself, have a good pre-season and start the season well.
“It didn't go that way and I had to deal with that, it was the gaffer's choice and I'm playing now, so I'm a happy man.”
As with last season, with every passing game there is a growing poise on the ball and a greater contribution to his team’s passing game.
“That's my game, to be honest,” he said.
“I wanted to come back in the team and when I did my first thought was, play safe, it will come.
“You can see I'm getting fitter and feeling better.
“It was a tough period but it's going well.”
The 26-year-old can sense a building momentum around the club and a heartening win against AFC Wimbledon in a superb atmosphere underlined it.
“After the first two draws, we knew we needed to get a win,” he said.
“The cup game came at the right time for us, we played well there, took three points against Portsmouth which was a big one.
“Rochdale, they moved the ball better than us but you have to get the three points and if you win games like that, I'll take it all day long.
“It gives everyone a lot of confidence.
“We have an experienced group, so we were never going to be shaky after a couple of disappointing results.
“We have strong characters in the dressing room.
“If you win, of course, it makes it easier but it feels really good here. The pitch is nice, the fans are amazing. When you play well, amazing. If you play badly, they're right [to be disappointed].
“It is a different vibe around the club when you win.
“Last season when we drew we were so disappointed in the dressing room. People don't see that but in the dressing room, we want to win all the games.
“You need to win most games at a club like this, especially at home,” he added.
“We drew too much here, for a club like this, you have to win these ones and it gives you something extra if you keep winning.
“It gives you something a bit extra when you're tired.”
There are, of course, plenty of challenges ahead.
Sunderland still have not kept a clean sheet and are behind in their manager’s target hit 20.
The imminent arrival of Joel Lynch will prove Ozturk with significant competition.
For now, though, he is integral alongside Willis and as he remarked after the game, it was nice to wish his defensive partner happy birthday with three points in the bag.
It’s a long season in League One, but if Ozturk has to prove himself again, don’t back against him doing just that.