VICTOR WANYAMA is over six foot tall and looks like he has been built with bricks, Jason Holt does not have that solid physique and will be lucky to come up to the Celtic man’s shoulders when they line up against each other this week.
But, Holt is growing in stature.
The Hearts teenager has broken into the team in the past few weeks and is beginning to fulfil the potential he showed when he was voted the Scottish Premier League’s U-19 player of the year in 2010-11. At that stage he was expected to start staking a claim for a first-team place pretty quickly but he has had to be patient.
He was farmed out to Raith Rovers by former Tynecastle boss Paulo Sergio, who took exception to what he considered SFA performance director Mark Wotte’s interference in team matters when the Dutchman stated publicly that the talented kid should be gaining game time at Hearts. Brought back into the fold in January, he scored in his first start, against St Johnstone, with Wotte tweeting: “Finally Jason Holt got his chance and well done on a great goal. One of the promising Scotland Under-19 players this year.”
It wasn’t the beginning of something big, he did not become a regular, it was merely a taste of what the future might hold.
But youngsters like Holt are the only real option open to Hearts manager John McGlynn. The club lost key midfielders in the summer and without the cash to buy in ready replacements, the Tynecastle boss is counting on their academy graduates like Holt. In recent weeks Dylan McGowan, Jamie Walker and Holt have joined the likes of Callum Paterson in a baby-faced line-up. The reviews have been favourable.
Last weekend, as Hearts bettered St Mirren, Holt was instrumental in the middle of the park, finding space, making the smart passes rather than the overly-ambitious ones, and keeping the ball and the game moving. A diminutive figure, he was still a stand-out amongst guys who stood head and shoulders above him.
“We had him at Raith about a year ago,” said the current Hearts boss. “He’s a talent. He has a good football brain, makes good runs. That’s the type of player he’ll need to be, getting into areas where he’s hard to pick up, because he’s not the biggest. He won’t win you battles but he’s technically gifted.
“Development is important. We’ve all seen a young player come through and then you never see them again. But Jason has a long-ish contract with the club and has time on his side to come through, which is important, that he didn’t need to force it. I’d like to think his performances have justified him being there.”
Against Wanyama, Holt will need to use every trick in his repertoire to ensure he is not bullied out of the game. “I think at the moment he probably is the best midfielder in the league,” said the Hearts 19-year-old. “His performances have been great and he’s managed to chip in with a few goals as well. He’s a great player but we need to concentrate on our game. I think in any game you don’t get a great amount of time on the ball so you need to look to move it sharp and quick and that’s what I try to do. I have heard stories of people getting told they are too small but at Hearts, I have always been told my height doesn’t matter. As long as you are strong on the ball, then it shouldn’t really matter.”
The likes of David Silva at Manchester City and the pint-sized Chelsea forward line offer credence to his argument, as do the best international and club sides in the world. “Spain and Barcelona have proved that you don’t have to be of big build as long as you can play football,” argued Holt. “That’s the main thing. It’s called football, you play with the ball.”
The fact Holt has been reared through the academy and is one of their own means he offers a solution to current conundrums as well as hope for the future. Not only in what he can produce for the team but in terms of future sell-on value if he maintains his development. In that context, McGlynn is well aware of his worth. “You break even, you bring through youth players, sell them on if you can and you have some money to reinvest.”