Hearts star bound for England '“ but must pick right moment

SO MUCH of the focus has been on fending off any bids that may yet materialise for Osman Sow but Hearts are also determined to hang on to the young players coming through the ranks. At least until they are able to jump straight into a top-flight side down south.

Head coach Robbie Neilson says Callum Paterson should develop at Hearts before heading south. Photograph: Craig Foy/SNS
Head coach Robbie Neilson says Callum Paterson should develop at Hearts before heading south. Photograph: Craig Foy/SNS

Robbie Neilson knows that there is interest in his players. He only needs to consult the lengthy list of club scouts who take their seat in the stand whenever his team take to the field. But he wants them to be wary of jumping at the first offer, believing that patience will pay even bigger dividends.

Callum Paterson returns to Hamilton today aware that he was embroiled in so much negativity in the last head to head at New Douglas Park. He was sent off, wrongly according to the ultimate determination of the powers that be, and the incident caused a hullaballo that rumbled on for a number of weeks. But it is with his consistent performances on the park that he has been creating ripples throughout the majority of the campaign.

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Only fellow defender Igor Rossi, goalkeeper Neil Alexander and Sow have featured more often than the Scottish full-back as Hearts have claimed their place among the Premiership’s top teams, and while his manager states that he could earn a place in a side down south, Neilson says Paterson could stake a greater claim, at a higher level, if he bides his time, keeps improving and gains even more experience.

“He is the one for me who is probably ready to step down there but, at the moment, he would probably be looking at the Championship,” said Neilson. “If he stays a bit longer and develops himself further as a defender and tries to get into the Scotland set-up then his next step could be straight to the Premiership. At the moment I don’t think that the clubs looking at him will be at that level and I think he should stay until he is ready to go to the top level.

“I say that to them all the time, the ones I believe could go down there, I tell them they have to go down at the right time. They don’t want to go too early because if the younger ones move too soon then they go down there as development players and play in the 21s league and waste away there until they end up going out on loan. So, I tell them they should stay here and play games and wait until somebody has to come in with big money because if someone spends big money on you then there is pressure on them to play you. But if someone spends £50,000, they have no problem putting you into the under-21s.”

Having built a squad that raced to the Championship title in his first year at the helm and followed it up with a rejigging of personnel that has so far served up a top three place in the club’s first season back in the Premiership, Neilson is keen to hold on to Sow beyond this transfer window, even if it means knocking back money, to enhance his team’s European bid.

He also wants to look at Paterson’s contract. The 21-year-old still has around 18 months remaining on the current deal but, in an effort to entice him to hang around long enough to bolster his own career and aid Hearts’ ambitions, his manager would like to agree an extension.

It won’t prevent him moving on eventually, but it would mean some recompense for Hearts when that day comes.

“It is something we will look at, possibly when the window is shut,” said Neilson, content that the player is happy to stick around until the right opportunity presents itself.

“Yeah, he understands it. He is a smart boy and he knows where he wants to go. I think the sensible thing would be to stay and get into the national team, which I think he should be round about now. He has been involved but he hasn’t played yet so it would be good if we could get him into that.”

With the player having moved from a striking role to right back, Neilson says it has taken Paterson, who is still far from the finished article, time to work on his defensive qualities. But the fact he has been willing to tackle his weaknesses has impressed the Hearts gaffer, who knows there are physical attributes which are key to flourishing south of the Border, admitting he himself was the weak guy on the post during his playing stint there.

“I got kept out the way! But Paterson, for me, is one who has the physicality to go down there, it is just what level you go down at.

“He is physical and strong and he is athletic and you have to be like that to play down in England.

“He is just a strong boy and, believe me, if you go down to England, you need that. When he does eventually go down he will be average size down there. You stand in the tunnel and they are all 
6ft 3in, 6ft 4in.

“You try to get the boys to a level. They are in the gym, working hard, to get themselves bulked up a bit. We have to help them to progress, and get down to England. We try to help them as much as we can.”