As the Rangers right-back made his senior international debut, Scotland youth teams coach Stark had no doubts about the 19-year-old’s ability to hit the ground running.
“It was actually a nice microcosm of what Nathan’s game is all about,” Stark tells The Scotsman.
“He was at it right away when he came on. He is so athletic and is always really positive in terms of taking people on. He has a cuteness about him in possession.
“Like all young defenders in the modern game, he is still learning about the defensive side of the game.
“But he is aggressive and wants to get close to opponents. He’s got the whole package and it’s clear to see how far he can go in the game.”
Rising through the ranks
Stark was Patterson’s coach when he came through the under-18 and under-19 age group levels with Scotland.
“You could see the potential he had from a very young age,” adds Stark. “He has been through the performance school system and played for Scotland all the way through from the under-16s.
“It was a rapid progression throughout and now he has full international status. I’m really delighted for Nathan and it’s obviously a source of pride and satisfaction for everyone who has been part of his development.
“He is a smashing lad, he was a good type to work with. I always found him really receptive. He tried to do what you asked him to do. It helps when you want him to do what are the good parts of his game, which are getting forward and being a threat.”
Room for growth
Patterson is still developing physically, having been something of a waif-like figure when he entered both the Rangers academy and Scottish FA performance school set-ups.
Rangers manager Steven Gerrard has already spoken of a pre-season programme designed to bulk up Patterson’s body as he looks to kick on from his impressive displays as understudy to Ibrox captain James Tavernier since the turn of the year.
“Nathan has a slim frame but has got broad shoulders,” observes Stark. “They do plenty of work in the gym these days, so I don’t think that will be a problem at all moving forward in his career.
“He has a natural aggression about him and isn’t shy about using his body to engage in the physical side of the game.
“You wondered about Nathan’s pathway to first team football at Rangers, because James Tavernier so rarely misses any games.
“But when Tavernier got injured, Nathan came in and basically brought the same attributes to the team. Rangers place a real emphasis on the full-backs being high up the pitch and making penetrating runs into the last third.
“He doesn’t have the scoring ratio that Tavernier has yet but, in terms of creating things in the last third, he’s just as capable of doing that. Any modern day full-back has to be able to do that.
“The running stats Nathan produces will certainly be comparable to the likes of Tavernier.
“He has shown rapid improvement in all aspects of his game over the last year or two. That’s what happens when you have the bravery to put a young boy into the team. Nathan has got a top temperament for playing first team football.”
It remains to be seen if Patterson can emerge as Scotland manager Steve Clarke’s first choice right-back ahead of Motherwell’s Stephen O’Donnell in the Euro 2020 finals campaign which begins against Czech Republic at Hampden next Monday.
Stark feels Patterson may have to bid his time a little longer but insists playing on the biggest stage of all wouldn’t faze him.
“Steve has moved towards that system with three at the back and the wing-backs are so important,” says Stark. “Getting both Kieran Tierney and Andy Robertson into the team on the left led him down that path and it has worked out well.
“On the right, Stephen O’Donnell is as honest as the day is long. He will run up and down that flank all day and has never let Steve down.
“Steve has a good knowledge of what he can do from working with him at Kilmarnock, so I see him being loyal to Stephen when the Euros start.
“But in international football, there should always be real competition for places and we are starting to get that right through the Scotland squad. I would have absolutely no worries at all about Nathan handling the situation if he plays in the tournament.”
Schools of excellence
Patterson and his former Rangers academy team-mate Billy Gilmour are the first players from the Scottish FA performance school system, established in 2012, to be included in the senior international squad.
“People will judge the performance schools differently in terms of what they expect from them,” reflects Stark.
“But if we get players of that quality into the senior national team, it’s a huge plus and the performance schools are a big factor in helping Nathan and Billy achieve that.
“You also have to praise the clubs’ contribution towards it. Rangers have done a fine job with Nathan, while Billy chose a different path and went to Chelsea at a very young age.
“That typified Billy’s confidence and attitude - he will think he should be a regular in the Chelsea first team. It’s not arrogance, it’s just self-belief. Lots of players have had that belief but couldn’t back it up. Billy certainly can and Nathan is in the same mould.
“They both have all the attributes to be top international players and we will keep our fingers crossed they go on to achieve that for a sustained period.”