Robbie Neilson says that Callum Paterson has between now and the end of the season to dictate where he spends the next chapter of his career.
Although the club will continue to engage the Scotland full-back in talks about extending his contract with Hearts, the Gorgie manager is resigned to losing him to England eventually.
“We’ll keep chatting with Callum but he wants to go and play in England and you have to respect that,” said Neilson. “He’s been great for Hearts. He’s played 150-odd games and he’s at a stage where he wants to go south of the border. We’ll get a substantial compensation fee for him so we have to accept that as well.
“You can never say never in football and we have to keep speaking and see where we are with it. But whether it’s January, next summer or a year down the line he’ll eventually be in England.”
But in the meantime the capital club will reap the benefit of Paterson’s attempts to catch the right eyes, be that Scotland boss Gordon Strachan, who handed the 21-year-old his first competitive cap against Malta, or club managers down south.
“The most important thing for a footballer is his form. Callum’s form from now until January or the end of the season will dictate what level in England he goes in at,” Neilson added. “When he goes and plays on the football pitch his form has to be top notch to stay in the Scotland team and get a potential move as high as he can go.
“He’s definitely ready for the Championship but if he really pushes himself then maybe lower end of the English Premier League. Whether he can get there is difficult to say because they don’t really recruit from up here but he’s definitely top end of the Championship and it all depends how he progresses this year. If he is consistently doing well for us and Scotland then he can make that step.
“He’s still a young kid who is developing. Even to go from Scotland to a top end Championship team is a massive jump but he’s more than comfortable doing that. Whether he can then go and jump again straight away or has to do a year or two in the Championship is down to form.”
Claiming the right-back did well in the World Cup qualifier he said there was still room for development but said his selection reinforced why the club had turned down multiple bids for the youngster in the most recent transfer window.
“Once you get a competitive cap, it’s totally different from a friendly game,” said Neilson. “In a friendly game, a lot of players pull out and aren’t interested – it’s a trial basis for a lot of players. Once you get into that competitive fixture, you’re the best right-back that Scotland’s got at the moment. That’s what he is.”
The rise of the Hearts Academy graduate is an example Neilson wants others who are still coming through the ranks to heed. Welcoming back a raft of players from international duty, in time for this weekend’s match against Hamilton, the Tynecastle manager says the experience will stand them in good stead and serve as an inspiration to others around them.
“We can use our internationals as an example when trying to sign players. We’ve brought in Arnaud [Djoum] who is now a Cameroon international and [Faycal] Rherras has come in and is playing for Morocco. It shows if you come here and do well then you get the chance to progress. I’m really pleased for those two.
“It’s been a while since we had someone play in a competitive game [for Scotland]. It just shows we’re getting there and I hope there are a few more boys that can progress into that team.”
With a clutch of representatives in the Under-21 squad, the club were also able to boast more than one in the full squad, with goalkeeper Jack Hamilton and Tony Watt also given call ups.
“They’ve seen a guy come through, work hard and get himself into the national team. I think there are a few others that will get there in years to come as well,” said Neilson.
The advantage for Hearts is the ongoing education of their players.
“It’s always good going away with your international team and see the level you’re at. You can sometimes think you’ve made it and you get a short, sharp shock - and you realise there is still a long way to go.
“I think our young boys realise that. It’s always a good learning curve when you go and play against good teams and where you need to get to.”