It’s all about going forward with Callum Paterson these days. Everything appears to be in front of him, including an English Premier League appearance he has dreamed about ever since he was five years old.
The Cardiff City player has been told to forget about defending by his club manager. The result? A promotion-sealing ten goals in 32 appearances since returning from a serious knee injury sustained while at Hearts and which briefly threatened to derail his career.
There’s no looking back now. He is now an integral part at both club and country level. His introduction after an hour against Peru last week helped bring some attacking intent to Scotland’s play. One cross he slung in from the right was begging to be converted at the far post by striker Oli McBurnie.
It is the kind of attacking play that is fast becoming his trademark. Alex McLeish would have been foolish not to recognise Paterson’s goalscoring exploits for Cardiff City while playing in a midfield role. They helped put the club back in the English top flight against all the odds. Speaking before the 2-0 defeat by Peru, the Scotland manager said it would be unfair to revert Paterson to right-back, where he won his first caps and preferred playing for Hearts. His right-back days now appear over.
The player himself is nothing if not honest. He admits being at fault for too many goals conceded by Hearts when patrolling that beat on the right of defence. Or, at times, when he wasn’t. He was too easily drawn upfield. So he is in agreement with Cardiff City manager Neil Warnock, who was unusually blunt when stating Paterson wasn’t a right-back because he “couldn’t defend”.
Now he doesn’t have to think about defending. He is only concerned about hurting sides at the other end. Some Premier League defences might be about to be shaken up.
“I am now a midfield runner and I am enjoying it,” said Paterson, 23. “I have played in a number of positions throughout my career.
“I am not the biggest stand-out player in the world but I do my job and I am happy to be part of a team that has just been promoted to the Premier League. Hopefully I can use my experience there to get a long-term run in the Scotland team.”
“Neil Warnock basically said I can’t defend,” he added. “He said it in a positive way because I am an attacking full-back at the end of the day. He told me my biggest asset is going forward and said if I am going to do that I would be as well doing it from an advanced position.
“I played at Hearts and I chipped in with a few goals from full-back but it is also fair to say that I shipped a few in as well.
“That is because I am an attacker and an attack-minded player who likes to get into the box and to score goals. I like getting forward and my strong point is doing that and also getting up to head the ball and to attack crosses. I am central to a lot more things in this new position which I prefer because it means I am a lot more involved.”
He was certainly central to Cardiff City’s promotion effort. He believes he has earned the right to call himself a Premier League player.
“If you looked at the odds beforehand they would have been crazy but thankfully the boys have pulled through,” he said of Cardiff’s successful promotion bid, in which they finished nine points behind champions Wolves.
“We have shown there was more than enough quality there to get us through. Most people’s aim for us was just to stay up but thankfully we more than surpassed that.
“Now we have won promotion and we can look forward to the Premier League. It has been a dream of mine to play there since I was five years old.
“To do it at the first time of asking makes it even sweeter especially with a team like Cardiff.
“The team are all like me, young and enthusiastic and that has been a big thing in our success. I am excited. I believe I can play in the Premier League and I am really looking forward to this challenge. I know the manager will strengthen but I am up and ready to fight for my place and this opportunity with Cardiff.”
As for the manager who dissed his defensive abilities, he has only warm words. Warnock, who was once linked with Hearts, is returning to the English top flight at the age of nearly 70.
“He is amazing,” said Paterson. “He is old school and tells like it is. If you do something right you will know and if you don’t then you will know about it.
“I have had a few rollockings but I have also had a lot of praise. It is nice to have somebody who is honest and doesn’t beat about the bush. That is what I like.”