I bet if you asked the average Sunderland supporter to reel off as many names of our current players as you can in about thirty seconds, that the majority of us would forget about Alim Ozturk. He’s probably the most unspectacular yet unheralded figure in Sunderland’s side, and I think that it’s about time that he got some praise for his seamless ability to put in a string of consistent performances, week after week, without pulling up any trees.
It’s probably a testament to Alim that fans rarely talk about him, because it means he’s doing his job and doing it well. Whilst most of the attention seems to focus on the other defenders in Parkinson’s ranks, it cannot be forgotten that, despite being written off and dropped entirely from the squad on numerous occasions since he arrived, Alim has time and again found his way back into the side and playing over a consistent run of games.
I’m not saying he’s perfect. He’s far from it. He’s a League One defender in every sense, and he lacks the pace and ability on the ball that might see him become a force in the division above eventually, but he’s got the uncanny ability of being able to mask his weaknesses by extenuating the positives in his game, and I like that.
He’s very much a ‘kick it and head it’ type of defender, and I only wish that Jack Ross had seen this and used him more last season.
As much as people talk about how keeping Josh Maja would have seen Sunderland gain promotion, by the same token I feel that Ross’s persistence with Baldwin and Flanagan as his defensive duo cost us a ridiculous number of points. Baldwin in particular made numerous errors in possession that led to us conceding goals, and I can’t help but feel that had Ozturk played a more prominent role we wouldn’t have conceded anywhere near as many, nor would we have been bullied aerially week after week.
So, whilst we’re seeing Sunderland finally start to hone a new system and formation it has been pleasing to see Alim really cement his spot in the side. Providing you flank him with quicker, more technically-able players, he’s really capable of being a force at this level and I don’t think it’s any surprise that our defensive record has improved with him in the side.
Since Jordan Willis has less responsibility and more freedom to move forward with the ball in this system, Alim has taken on the role of the assured and dependable figure in Sunderland’s defence. Where Willis has the pace to get himself and the other defenders out of trouble, Alim is very much there to do the dirty work. He’s been asked to do the simple stuff and that just suits him down to the ground - he’s proving that he’s worth an awful lot more to this football club than being a bench warmer.
So with all the debate surrounding the club’s future raging on in the background, sometimes it’s cathartic to sit and analyse the individual performances of the players, and give praise where it’s due. Alim Ozturk might not be Sunderland’s most popular player, but he’s quickly proven himself to be one of our most consistent. Keep it up!