BY RICHARD CAWLEY
Erhun Oztumer will forever have a debut of gratitude to Dulwich Hamlet for the part they played in rebuilding his career.
While his new club Charlton Athletic were earning a point at Barnsley on Saturday to extend their unbeaten start in the Championship, the 28-year-old playmaker was watching his old non-league club draw 2-2 with Concord Rangers.
Oztumer was not fit enough to be considered for Lee Bowyer’s travelling party to Oakwell – Bolton’s financial unravelling’s leaving all of their senior pros out of shape.
So instead the Greenwich-born midfielder, who the EFL cleared last week to tear up his deal with Wanderers, did a session at the Addicks’ Sparrows Lane training ground before heading to Champion Hill.
Hamlet have moved on to bigger and better things, and so to has Oztumer.
He returns to Charlton, who released him in 2007, as a proven talent who has scored some sublime goals at Peterborough United and Walsall.
But Oztumer’s career was at a crossroads when he signed for Dulwich in 2012 after a spell playing in Turkey.
“It was a massive risk,” he said. “My parents weren’t too happy with me coming back – they were telling me I had to get a job.
“But when I got started and was doing well, scoring goals, they backed me all the way.
“I will never regret going out to Turkey. I felt it made me who I am today. It made me a stronger person. But I really enjoyed my time at Dulwich, especially Gavin [Rose, manager] and the staff.
They taught me so much and played me. I concentrated on my football and money wasn’t an issue because I had that family backing, which was brilliant.
“I couldn’t have done it without my family, Gav and Junior [Kadi, Dulwich assistant manager].”
Oztumer spent two seasons in Isthmian League Division One South. He hit 27 goals in the first one and then 33 as Hamlet won the title in 2014. Then came a transfer to the Posh. Rose admits that Dulwich were unable to pay anywhere near the sums of money that reflected his talents.
“I’m not sure if you can call it a wage – and that was because of the level I was at,” said Oztumer.
“But the crucial thing was that I was happy.
“In the pro game you get so much done for you – like your recovery sessions, sometimes you get sent food or shinpads. In non-league you have to buy them yourself. I had to do my own recovery. I was spending most of my money on a gym, so that I could recreate training like a pro.
“It helped not make it such a big step up when I was at a club which did train every day.”
The other battle for Oztumer has been his height. It was a big factor behind his release by Charlton.
He is five-foot three inches tall – smaller than Jonny Williams and Josh Cullen, two other nippy but short footballers. It hasn’t held Oztumer back though once he got his break, his performances for Walsall leading to him being in the PFA League One Team of the Year for successive seasons before joining Bolton in 2018.
“If you are tall and having a bad game then you have still got the physical performance,” said Oztumer. “You can still win headers, tackles and show strength.
“But I wouldn’t have that. I need to concentrate on the technical side of things – getting my touch right all the time and for my passing to be crisp. Smaller players have to effect the game more than certain other players.”
Oztumer was set for Charlton in the January window but Bolton pulled the plug after seeing a deal for Ched Evans collapse.
“I knew about two weeks before the deadline that Charlton were interested,” recalls Oztumer. “It took a while for the agreement to happen.
“There was about 40 minutes to go until the cut-off and I got a call to go to the stadium [at Bolton] to sign papers. I jumped out of bed and drove there and it fell through.
“It was very disappointing because I wasn’t getting much game time at Bolton and Charlton were doing really well. I wanted to be a part of that. It was hard to take.
“When they wanted me again it was a no-brainer really – playing in the Championship and close to home.”
Oztumer made just 17 Championship appearances for Bolton – 833 minutes – over the course of two campaigns with Phil Parkinson’s side.
“It was a dream move for me to play for such a big club in the Championship,” he said. “I felt I had earned my chance to play for a club of that stature in the Championship.
“But it didn’t go to plan. I felt it was the right time to leave and try and get some game time elsewhere.
“I don’t think the style [of play] suited me. I was promised a lot of stuff and I don’t think it happened. That’s why I didn’t play many games. It wasn’t down to my performances, it was down to tactics and the how we set up to play.”
Oztumer was a surprise starter for Charlton in Wednesday night’s 1-1 draw against Nottingham Forest.
He got an hour under his belt – his first action of this campaign – before being replaced by Jonny Williams.
“It was on 60 minutes that we brought him off but he was so clever, so good with the ball at his feet,” said Addicks manager Lee Bowyer.
“His vision and awareness, like I said, we’ve got a bit of everything. He worked hard out of possession and won the ball back a few times. He’s a good player to have in our squad.
“Now Oztumer has come in and had a taste. Did I make the right decision? Yeah, I believe so. Ozzy didn’t let us down. He brought us something different, now Jonny doesn’t miss out on Saturday, which is perfect.”
Photos: Keith Gillard