Demetri Mitchell was only back down south for a matter of months but when he returned to Hearts this week, he was surprised by how much had changed.
“I’ve only been gone about four months and half the players are not here,” said the 21-year-old, taken aback by the turnaround in playing personnel. “That was a bit of a shock to me. I’ve come back to nine or ten new signings but they look very good players. Training is very competitive and the standards are really high.”
The Manchester United player, who featured in the Old Trafford side’s pre-season tour of the USA and signed a contract extension that ties him to the English Premier League club until 2020, feels that another season in the Scottish top tier will advance his development.
He will be working with a manager and coaches who were happy to give him game time last term and he has gone straight into the squad for today’s match against St Mirren. But he knows that the summer signing of Ben Garuccio, who has been occupying the left-back slot as Hearts have made a positive start to the season, going unbeaten in eight games, advancing to the League Cup quarter-finals and sitting top of the league table, will make it tougher to force his way into the starting line-up and could necessitate him playing in a more advanced position.
“I’d like to do that. I like to play right wing and cut inside,” he said. “I like to play left-back and defending. I like playing left wing too. I’d like to play on the wing and show a bit of flair but it’s up to the manager. I’m happy playing wherever he puts me – left wing, right wing, left back.
“I played left wing-back with United when I started against Liverpool [in the pre-season head to head] and I played left wing in the game against San Jose. It was good. I was away with the first team to LA the summer before so this was my second time away. I was just focusing on working hard and getting the minutes in. All the first-team players are helpful. It’s a good environment.”
With 11 appearances under his belt during his last stint in the capital, he was denied even more starts by a knee injury that sidelined him for ten weeks but the fans and the club saw enough to appreciate and that support was a major factor in luring him back despite the fact some English Championship sides had been keen on his services.
“I really felt the love of the fans. It’s a big club in Scotland but also the manager showed his confidence in me. He threw me into the deep end against Hibs in the cup and he showed me I would get game time if I worked hard and performed.”
A winning start to his second stint would bolster the mood of manager Craig Levein, who will be missing from the dugout today after he was rushed to hospital at the beginning of the week following a heart scare.
“The manager’s situation means we want to work hard and get a result for him against St Mirren,” said Mitchell. “It would be good if we got the three points and we were still on top of the league on Saturday night. I think winning would make him feel good and it would also make us feel good that we had managed to do that for the manager.”