Hearts head coach Robbie Neilson admits Jordan McGhee’s dream of playing in the English top-flight will be determined by whether the defender grows an extra inch.
The Tynecastle outfit have high hopes for the Scotland Under-21 internationalist but Neilson admits the chances of McGhee plying his trade as a centre-half south of the border depends on his height.
McGhee, who is just over 6ft tall, impressed at both right and left-back in Sunday’s hard-fought 1-0 victory at Dundee United on his return to the first team, but plans to become a recognised central defender in future.
Neilson knows from his own experience that players in England are vastly superior physical athletes after moving to Leicester City from Hearts in 2009.
And even though the Gorgie side regard McGhee, who was the subject of a failed bid by Ipswich during the summer, as a player with great potential, Neilson concedes that the 19-year-old still needs to grow.
Neilson, who looks set to deploy McGhee at left-back against Ross County today after Juwon Oshaniwa picked up a hamstring injury at Tannadice, said: “You can play in Scotland as a centre-half at six foot.
“If you want to go and play as a centre-half in England, you need to be six-three, six four. That’s it. That’s the nature of the game.
“He could play centre-half at six-one. But he’s not going to get a move down to a big team in England and play in that position. And that’s what he wants to do.
“We have big hopes for Jordan and I believe he can go and play down in England. It’s just a question of what position he plays when he goes there.
“If he is going to be a centre-half in England, he will need to grow an inch or two.”
Neilson was taken aback by the physical difference when he moved south of the border as a player six years ago.
He added: “Just look at every centre-half in England. I remember standing next to guys in the tunnel that were huge.
“I played up here predominately as a right-back but I played centre-half a few times.
“I went down to England and I could’t play centre-half down there.
“If they put a 6ft 3in or 6ft 4in striker up against you, you had no chance. The aerial ball comes in and you can’t compete against it. No matter how good a player you are, you can’t do it.”
Meanwhile, McGhee himself admits he has to accept that his lack of game time is down to his age – not his ability.
The 19-year-old came through the youth ranks at Tynecastle with Paterson, Sam Nicholson, Billy King and Jamie Walker, and has watched his team-mates all become first-team regulars.
The Scotland Under-21 internationalist said: “It’s difficult seeing my team-mates coming through and playing regularly when I’m not getting a game.
“They’re all top players and they’ve done really well but at the same time I’d say it’s a lot harder to break through as a centre-back than it is for a winger.
“If a winger takes on a full-back and loses it, the fans don’t go so mental but if a centre-back loses a header or makes a stray pass, it’s your fault for the goal.
“I can see why managers don’t trust young centre-backs as much as players in other positions.
“It’s their neck on the line if you make a mistake so that’s where you need the manager to believe in you – I’m sure I’ll prove myself once I get a chance.
“But it is difficult. You just need to have belief in yourself and keep training as hard as you can.
“I’ve asked the manager a few times what I can do to get in the team. He’s told me I just need to be patient.
“He knows I’m good enough to play and I know myself I’m good enough to play but I just need to wait until my time comes.”
Ross County manager Jim McIntyre is warning his players to ignore the chatter surrounding top six and European aspirations, and stay focused on winning football matches.
Despite their convincing victory over Aberdeen last Friday, he said: “We’ve done nothing. We’ve had a good start to the season and we’ll take it one step at a time.
“We’ve spoken about the target of making the top six this year and we’re miles away. We’re in it just now, but there’s a hell of a lot of football still to be played.
“Until you actually do something, I don’t like talking about it. It is one match at a time for me. We know what our target is and we’ll try to chase it.”