FOOTBALLERS are conditioned to cope with drama.
While Callum Paterson was clearly sympathetic to those team-mates who left Hearts earlier this week, he was keen yesterday to look to the future after being named young player of the month for April.
Describing these tough decisions as being the “right thing to do” in terms of safeguarding the club’s future, Paterson added that he was confident those players released will go on to “bigger and better things”. As for Gary Locke, Paterson praised the manager sacked earlier this week for helping him develop as a player. However, he is encouraged by successor Robbie Neilson’s willingness to improve someone who wants to follow in his footsteps as a right-back at Tynecastle.
“He has been the under-20s coach and he has been doing a bit after training with me, working on my left foot and clearing,” he said. “He has been a good help throughout the season and I am looking forward to having him as a coach next season. He is more of a defender and, specifically, a right- back, which is where I want to play. I like to take pointers and advice from him and hopefully I can do what he has done in his career.”
Neilson’s promotion might help boost Paterson’s chances to play at full-back on a regular basis, although Locke was also open to this towards the end of the season. Paterson performed as an auxiliary striker for the majority of the campaign as Hearts’ sought to cope with a lack of resources as well as injury setbacks.
The 19 year-old scored seven times while employed in this role, although, as he himself points out, having reverted to right-back towards the end of season he scored four times in four matches.
It is this run that helped him catch the eye of the judges, who chose Paterson as their player of the month after also opting for Locke as their SPFL managerial pick. Unlike Locke, however, Paterson was able to receive his award at Tynecastle having survived Monday’s dramatic cull of the coaching and playing staff, following the arrival of new director of football Craig Levein.
Jamie MacDonald, Jamie Hamill and Dylan McGowan were among those following Locke out of the door, while Ryan Stevenson has been advised to find himself a new club.
Although he broke into the first-team under John McGlynn, Paterson is grateful for Locke’s guidance, describing him as a “massive influence” on his career so far. “He helped me develop, built up my confidence and he believed in me,” he said. “Even when I was not playing that well up front he still trusted me and chucked me in there, and when I went to his office and asked if I could have a shot at right-back he said ‘why not?’ and chucked me in there. He has turned it around for myself, and others, too. Football is a crazy game and crazy things happen,” he continued. “He will be straight back in a job with the job he has done throughout the season and in the last ten games he did unbelievably well.
“It is never good to see your friends and your team-mates leaving your workplace, but at the end of the day it was to save the club and it was the right decision, in my opinion,” he said.
“We are friends and we all keep in touch but it is the holidays now and everyone is trying to clear their heads and come back at the beginning of the season raring to go.
“It’s not as if they are old men who I don’t really speak to – I saw them every day at the workplace. It was hard to see them go but I am sure they will all go on to bigger and better things. I wish them all the best for their careers.”
“The main thing is to keep Hearts alive,” he noted. “And that has happened. But it has happened with a bit of sacrifice. There was nothing we could do about it, it had to be done to keep the club alive.”
Paterson has no memories of watching Hearts when Levein was last in charge at the club, because he is a Livingston fan, whose path into senior football came via Tynecastle boys’ club.
This is in contrast to many of his peers at Hearts, who graduated from the club’s youth academy. “I’ve heard stories about his [Levein’s] teams from my mates, they all love Hearts,” said Paterson.
“But I was always a Livvy fan. Now I am a neutral, because they’re going to be in my division next season!”