Adam Jackson came through the England ranks with the likes of Raheem Sterling, Jordan Pickford and Eric Dier but the Hibernian defender will be focusing on a different kind of footballing heavyweight this term.
The Middlesbrough youth academy graduate, who spent the last three years at Barnsley, was sold on a move to Scotland by the high-octane capital derby after he was invited north to take in the final city showdown of the season.
That match at Easter Road ended 1-1 but the atmosphere, intensity and the individual battles were enough to convince him he wanted a shot at it himself, even if he knows that he will have to find a way to shackle the imposing figure of the man who grabbed Hearts’ late equaliser, Uche Ikpeazu. “He’s a big guy and he’s one of those that you’ll have to change your game a bit to play against him,” said Jackson. “I was speaking to Daz [Hibs defender Darren McGregor] about it and on the day he did really well. He’s a big guy as well and it was a good battle that with two big, strong lads.
“I got invited up to the derby at the end of the season and when I saw it, I just thought ‘this is ideal.’ The crowd was unreal, the atmosphere, the stadium. It was great. I’m told it sells out all the time and the type of game it was, you had to be impressed.
“There were the big tackles and the crowd getting up for that. That’s a big selling point when you come to a game. I thought it was really quick and an entertaining game, end to end and it was brilliant.”
But many men who have been capped at England age-group level all the way through to U19 and who can call the likes of Premier League winner Sterling and Champions League finalist Dier former team-mates, would be less enthusiastic about a move to Scottish football.
Jackson has no such qualms, though. Not when manager Paul Heckingbottom made it clear how much he wanted him at Hibs.
The pair had worked together at Barnsley and it took the gaffer precious little time to conclude that he wanted to reunite in Leith.
It was Heckingbottom who took the defender to Barnsley in 2016 and as soon as he had managed to weigh up the merits of the Hibs squad he had inherited when he took over from Neil Lennon in February, he quickly made moves to ensure he would be one of his first additions to the Easter Road playing staff as well.
“It was a little bit after that – he said he had to take a bit of time to assess his squad to see if there was space for me,” added Jackson. “But then he invited me up to the game and I spoke to him afterwards.”
“Solid” is a word Heckingbottom believes captures the essence of the 25-year-old, who he says excelled at Barnsley before injury cost him his starting place.
“He is a solid character and one the lads will come to respect,” said the Hibs boss. “He earned his way into a Championship team at Barnsley and was arguably the best centre back for me for a period before he got injured but that’s the way football is. The other centre backs stepped up and he was the one who was back-up to them but he is a solid character and a good footballer.”
He is also hungry for a fresh challenge and the chance to establish himself, working under a manager he likes. “Speaking to the gaffer and [assistant manager] Robbie Stockdale, they both think a lot can be achieved this season. Obviously we’re hoping for a good cup run to start, and then qualifying for Europe is the aim.” And he believes in Heckingbottom’s ability to deliver.
“It’s a lot of the coaching stuff that you won’t necessarily see on a match day,” he says when asked what it is that makes the management team stand out. “The detail of what he wants from you on the training ground is really intense. He tells you what he needs from you to improve, the little things that you might not have noticed. It’s all to benefit you.”
In an age when many managers place great emphasis on defenders starting attacks and oozing confidence on the ball, Jackson prefers to provide a solid foundation on which to build.
“I would like to think I’m more of a defender than anything else. If it needs to be kicked out I’ll do it but if I also get the chance to play I’ll do it and fire it into midfield.”
But first he has to bag a place in the team when the competitive action kicks off. “Ryan [Porteous] hasn’t been training yet but I think he’s in next week. The two lads I’ve seen this week, it’s good to talk to them and learn about their experiences and they’ve been really helpful.”