Bozanic hoping Hearts move will turn heads

Hearts midfielder Oliver Bozanic Source: Hearts

No sooner has Oliver Bozanic greeted me at the gates of Tynecastle when he points out what can only be described as the most local of Edinburgh landmarks.

"See that big grey building next to the training pitch?" Bozanic motions. "That’s the whisky distillery. Hundreds of years old. Can’t get more Scottish than that."

Bozanic knows about it because the manager, Craig Levein, insists on giving the players a personal tour of the city and its history when they arrive.

It’s an unforgettable initiation into this grand location, a place of extraordinary history and grandeur. But for Bozanic, the "touristy stuff" is on the back-burner. For now, it's all business.

The 29-year old has got two goals for being here. One is to break into the red hot Hearts’ starting XI, which has taken the Scottish Premiership by storm this season.

They lead the SPL by two points (ahead of local rivals Hibernian) and are on track to win their first league title in 58 years – and become the first non-Old Firm team to triumph since Aberdeen in 1985.

The other is much bolder: to reclaim his place in the Socceroos’ midfield, ideally in time for the Asian Cup.

For a player who went to the 2014 FIFA World Cup – and played well when given his chance – there’s frustration that he’s gone more than three years without a call-up.

"I want to be back in the national team and I make no secret of that. Once you've had a taste of it, which I had there for a few years, it's something you never want to give up," he said.

"I'm determined to find my way back in there and that shaped my decision about which club I'd go to when I left Australia."

So why was Hearts the right club to go to? And why leave the A-League so soon after joining Melbourne City?

"I had a great time at City and I’m thankful to them for the chance to return to Australia, but I wanted to get to a European club with big ambitions," he said.

"I wanted to go somewhere that if I did well, it would help get me recognised [for Australia] again. When you play for a club like Hearts, I think that's a statement about the ambitions I have for both club and country.

"I certainly haven't given up. You can't force these things but I firmly believe that if I can play some good football here, I can get noticed."

Socceroos coach Graham Arnold has long preached tough love to Bozanic, dating way back to when he signed him for the Central Coast Mariners.

A huge talent at youth level, he was made to wait his turn behind John Hutchinson and Nick Montgomery before breaking through and eventually starring.

He’s also on the receiving end of some similar treatment from Levein right now, with Peter Haring and Olly Lee being the preferred choice in central midfield, although that could quickly change.

"We're top of the table, now we're into the semi-final of the League Cup. We've won almost every game (Hearts' first loss came against Rangers last weekend) and we've had one draw, so it's a hard team to break into," he said.

"But that's football, you have to find a way. Now it's about working hard to find an opportunity and then do everything you can to stay in the team. My time will come. I just have to be ready to make sure when I do get it, I don't let it slip."

Indeed, while Hearts’ form has been the talk of Scottish football – not least whether they or Hibernian can take down the Old Firm – Bozanic says the seeds of their current success were planted right back in pre-season.

"It was incredibly intense and probably the reason we started so well. We were training two-three times per day, doing beach runs, clocking up to 20 kilometres," he said.

"That intensity has given us such a great base from which to go forward. I know there were times last season where the fitness was questioned, so we had to make sure there was no question about it for this season.

"The boss wanted us to be the fittest team in the competition and I think that's been evident from the very first game. Now it’s up to us to make it last."