Just under a month after his appointment as Sunderland manager, Jack Ross secured his first signing in Alim Ozturk as the club commenced its rebuild in League One, with the Turkish defender arriving from Boluspor on a free transfer.
Whilst he was a relatively unknown figure to many Sunderland fans at the time, Ozturk was a familiar face to football fans north of the border. From 2014 to 2017 he played over 65 games for Hearts of Midlothian where he was a cult hero having been club captain there, scoring a worldie goal for the Jambos in a derby against Hibernian.
Upon the announcement of his arrival to the club, Ross cited his ability to cope with the physicality of the league and his knowledge of the player as key factors in the signing. He also suggested that Ozturk had unfulfilled potential which he felt Sunderland could capitalise on.
He is someone who I know – I worked with him a few years ago at Hearts. He is a player who is yet to reach his full potential, but this opportunity here gives him the chance to do that.
He is a really good player and he will be able to cope with the physical demands of this league. He is really comfortable on the ball and I think the supporters will see that.
He is excited by the opportunity to come here and he wants to do well so that fits perfectly in to what we are trying to do here moving forward.
Ozturk said it was an ‘honour’ and an ‘easy decision’ to join Sunderland.
His signing kicked off the complete overhaul that took place that summer, with no more than thirteen new signings joining the club.
In his time on Wearside, Ozturk struggled to retain or maintain consistency in starting games and in his overall form. His form was quite erratic in general and he tended to be overlooked in favour of other defenders like Jack Baldwin and Tom Flanagan, who generally had shown more consistency in their performances.
His best run in the team coincided with Sunderland’s worst. At the tail end of the first season in League One, Ozturk finally got a consistent run in the team after Sunderland conceded five goals at home to Coventry in what was a horrendous defensive display by Jack Baldwin and Tom Flanagan at the back.
In the next game, at home to Doncaster Rovers, Ozturk was drafted in alongside Jimmy Dunne where he displayed far greater defensive solidity than the aforementioned duo in a 2-0 victory.
On the back of this win, Ozturk maintained his place in the Sunderland side for the rest of the season before he got sent off in the play-off semi-final first leg against Portsmouth - but the decision was overturned and he returned for the second leg, also starting alongside Tom Flanagan in the infamous play-off final defeat against Charlton Athletic at Wembley.
In the next season Ozturk’s fortunes followed a similar pattern, and it wasn’t until the arrival of Phil Parkinson that Ozturk began to get some consistent game time, starting nine games in a row around December 2019.
This changed when Bailey Wright was brought in in January 2020 and with the early curtailment of the 2019-2020 season due to Covid-19, Ozturk’s time ended at the club without a promotion or a consistent run in the team.