Last week, Demetri Mitchell moved into exalted company as he joined the likes of Nicky Butt, Darren Fletcher and John O’Shea as a winner of the Manchester United Reserve Team Player of the Year award.
Tomorrow the 21-year-old will be just as delighted to join the throng of Hearts players who take to the pitch in an attempt to extend the club’s unbeaten run since returning to Tynecastle in November.
Out for the past ten weeks after picking up a knee injury against Ross County, the promising full-back, who joined Craig Levein’s men on loan, in January, has been missed by the Gorgie side, who have struggled to find the right balance and pose the same danger down the left flank in his absence. But, fresh from his Old Trafford accolade, he is determined to make the most of the final three games and reward Hearts for giving him a taste of first-team football.
“It means a lot to me [to win the award] when you consider the names already on the shield,” he said. “It’s nice to win any award but it doesn’t mean you’ll go on to do great things. You still need to work hard but it’s good for them to select me. It was a special feeling.”
It proves United have been keeping tabs on their loan star, pleased with the contribution he has made in Scotland.
Mitchell added: “I speak to the guys who look after the loan players and the manager’s spoken to me a few times, [head of academy] Nicky Butt asks me how things are going. They are very good at keeping track.
“The manager [Jose Mourinho] has told me it’s good to go out and play men’s football. It’s important in terms of development and that’s something I’ve learned here. I now know how much it means to be playing for points in front of fans in a league that really matters.
“There’s not that much of a drastic change in terms of the football. But when you are playing in front of the fans you can really feel them. If things are not going well you can feel it and likewise when it’s going well. You get abuse if it’s going not so well but they can also give you a boost.
“I’ve grown up. I’ve lived on my own and on the pitch I’ve come on as a left-back. In my first game I was nervous but before I got injured I felt much more confident.”
It is a union which has proved mutually beneficial, with Hearts already investigating the possibility of enticing him back for the next campaign. “He has been brilliant for us,” said Levein, below. “This season has been so frustrating and I thought I had fixed the problem we had at left-back and he did brilliantly but then he joined the list of casualties. But he has trained for nine or ten days and, although he was a bit stiff in the first week, he has felt better and provided he gets through training today, I would expect him to be involved [against Celtic tomorrow].”
Just one step away from the double treble, Levein does not expect Celtic to offer anything other than stern opposition when they return to the scene of Hearts’ notable 4-0 victory earlier in the campaign. It was the result that ended the champions’ domestic 69-game unbeaten run and he expects them to be out for revenge, which makes the fielding of his strongest team, and the return of Mitchell, key.
But he is hoping that the final three games of the season will not prove to be Mitchell’s last in maroon.
He said: “I would like to get him back next year. I have spoken to [Manchester United] about that but there are things like the World Cup, where United have a number of players involved. They also have a pre-season tour of America and may need players for that, and the manager may want to have a look at him. He has enjoyed being here and we have enjoyed having him. We want to keep him and he wants to stay but Man United are the ones who have his registration so they have to want what we want. It may be that they need time to assess the situation, which I understand.”