Hearts are the latest side to turn down pitiful approaches, with manager Robbie Neilson stating that the bids lodged for Callum Paterson by Gary Caldwell’s Wigan Athletic were “miles away” from the Gorgie club’s valuation of the Scotland full-back.
“Until a bid comes in that matches our valuation then he will be remaining with us,” said Neilson. “ I have spoken to Callum and he understands the situation. We have set a price which we believe is more than fair – not too much for a current Scotland international with a huge career ahead of him – but as it has been in the past, English clubs think they can come up here and offer lower sums than they should be expected to pay.”
Paterson has refused a new deal that would keep him at Tynecastle beyond the end of his current contract. That expires at the end of this season, allowing him to sign a pre-contract agreement in January. But having come through the Hearts academy, he would not be allowed to move to another club without compensation, which could stretch to £450,000 depending on who secures his services. Hearts have taken that into account when arriving at a sum in excess of £1 million, which would also cover the value of the contribution the attacking right-back could make to the side throughout the current campaign, especially as he would be keen to impress those maintaining a watching brief, ensuring optimum effort.
“The whole ethos of this club is to develop players to sell them on for a figure we believe is acceptable, at the right time,” said Neilson. “But if clubs want to come along and put an offer in that is nowhere near our valuation then they are not getting our player. If we need to let his contract run for the final year, then so be it. The flip side of that is we will have Callum Paterson for another year – a Scotland international to help us progress in the league, then we’ll get compensation at the end of that.
“It’s about setting a precedent, absolutely. That is what this is about. Even if a player is in the final year of his contract, we still want an acceptable price. What is the point of giving away our best players for a pittance.
“If he doesn’t move in this window it’s his form which will ensure there’s interest in him the next one. Ultimately for footballers you have no control over who wants to come and buy you. All you have control over is your form so that’s all you can focus on.”
Neilson accepts that the financial difficulties experienced by Scottish clubs in the not-too-distant past meant that fire sales were more commonplace, with some owners happy to snatch at any scraps. But the steadying of the ship renders that scenario less common, with fewer clubs in a position where they have to sell off prize assets.
“I think to English clubs every market is an easy market with the money circulating down there all the divisions down and, ultimately, it’s up to every team in Scotland to make their own decision on it. We feel that it’s the best way forward for the club, especially when it comes to academy players. We can’t develop players for eight to ten years and let them go for a very low fee.
“I think a lot of Scottish teams are getting into that position as well. There has been a lot of interest in younger players at teams. Motherwell have got a lot of good players and they have had interest but they’ve been able to hold out. They’re similar to us five, six years ago, [when] we’d have had to sell to the first offer. So it’s pleasing we can keep a hold of them. And any player that does go, then it’s for decent money which we can re-invest.
“The only way [English clubs] are going to get realistic about it is by teams being strong. Falkirk are a prime example of a team that has stayed strong to get maximum value for their players. They have sold players for good money, a lot of money, by being strong. They’ve said this is what we want for them, if you’re not going to pay it you’re not going to get them.”
Newcastle United have also been credited with an interest in 21-year-old Paterson. Adamant that any suitors will need to substantially improve on Wigan’s initial offerings, Neilson concedes that Paterson is ready for a shot at the English game, should the right offer materialise, but he wants him to carefully consider his options, especially as the Magpies are supposedly eyeing him up for a place in their under-23 squad initially.
“He is ready to go to England. He is physically ready, he is mentally ready – he has the experience,” said the Heartshead coach. “We always talk about players playing 50, 60, 100 games. Well, Callum has played 150 now. He will go down, if someone takes him as a first-team player, which is what we always want. We always say to players, when you leave here make sure you go down as a first-team player, not a development player. And if someone comes and pays the fee we are looking for, then they’ll get a first-team player.”