Aidan Smith: Too wild about Harry but John Fleck story shows there is a road back

John Fleck is now a vital member of a resurgent Sheffield United side. Picture: SNS.
John Fleck is now a vital member of a resurgent Sheffield United side. Picture: SNS.
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Two years ago yesterday Hearts played Celtic at Tynecastle and not just any old Celtic either. Brendan Rodgers’ Invincibles were starting to make a serious mockery of Scottish football being even remotely competitive. Surely their omnipotence would remain intact?

Certainly, if Hearts were to smash the sequence something special would be required. Remarkably, they produced it. Remarkably, a lad looking young enough to still be writing letters to Santa Claus produced it. This was “The Moment” – the excitable Hearts match programme editor’s description of the goal scored by 16-year-old Harry Cochrane, crowning a 4-0 victory in which, according to his even more excitable manager, he’d “bossed” Scott Brown.

Hearts didn’t half go wild about Harry. Too wild. But, as the prodigy attempts to kickstart his career in Gorgie, he should take encouragement from the story of John Fleck. It is possible to avoid being killed by overpraise.

Ten years ago Fleck was the most promising 17-year-old at Rangers. This wasn’t a difficult position to achieve in a side featuring Kirk Broadfoot and many foreign names but Ibrox took to him; fans always like to see locally-produced tyros breaking through. Then: enter David Beckham.

AC Milan came to Glasgow for a friendly when Beckham was on his late-career grand tour of fashionable cities. He was a loan player with the Rossoneri but their most glittering star, the one they queued up for three hours at the front door to greet. It’s not known whether, in the tradition of a movie idol gracing Scotland with his presence, Beckham was asked if he’d ever tasted haggis but he was quizzed about Fleck. Oh yes, he said, the kid was a good ’un.

Beckham had never seen Fleck, pictured, play before that night and indeed only glimpsed him for 45 minutes. Nevertheless this was a diamond quote, recounted often. Did Becks’ anointing do the young man any favours? He was always going to have to live up to it. Not long after, Fleck was in the third tier of English football with troubled Coventry City. But just look at him now: a vital part of a vibrant Sheffield United in the Premier, only four points off the Champions League places after his two smart goals against Aston Villa earned rave reviews on Match of the Day.

Cochrane, now 18, won’t be playing when Celtic return to Tynecastle tonight but one of the first things new head coach Daniel Stendel did was request that the player and fellow Jambo youngster Anthony McDonald rejoin Hearts’ training sessions from the pair’s loan spells at Dunfermline. “I hear they have a lot of potential,” Stendel said. “I want to see what they can do.”

The German acted before that dreary defeat by St Johnstone when Hearts were crying out for a gallus, fearless creative force – the playmaker Cochrane looked like becoming, first time around. Cocky Cochrane had announced himself by chopping down Hibernian’s John McGinn. Then, after the 4-0 game, he eclipsed McGinn and Dylan McGeouch. No respecter of reputations, he was fast building his own. Just about the only doubts concerned his spindly frame, which were promptly exploited by muscular Motherwell and in a rematch with Brown at Parkhead. It was Craig Levein who mentioned “bossing”. Unlike Beckham he knew the kid he was drooling over though he hyped Cochrane too much.

Difficult second-season syndrome, growing pains, injuries – these were factors in the player’s progress stalling, but over-excitement is an ongoing problem in Scotland when fresh new talent sprouts. World Cup failures have made us desperate to see it flower.

No pressure, then, Daniel.