Liam Smith was rejected by Rangers for being too small but the young Hearts player insists his Light Blues exit helped pave the way for his big chance at Tynecastle.
The 19-year-old right-back has taken advantage of Callum Paterson’s recent shoulder injury to grab a slot in Robbie Neilson’s team.
I never let what happened at Rangers affect me because at that age, you know there is such a long way to go to make it as a footballer.Liam Smith
The Dalgety Bay teenager has impressed after starting the Jambos’ last three matches, helping the Gorgie men to three clean sheets.
And his reward has been swift, with Ricky Sbragia this week handing him a surprise call-up to the Scotland Under-21 squad for this month’s European Championship qualifiers with France and Northern Ireland.
It is also testament to his determination to succeed after he being axed from the Murray Park youth ranks aged just 14 after doubts were raised about his small frame.
But rather than feeling bitter about his Rangers exit, Smith prefers to focus on the fact it handed him his opportunity to grow into a first-team contender at Tynecastle.
He said: “I was at Rangers until I was 14 but I was released. I think being too small had something to do with it.
“I signed for Hearts after that but I actually played an age group down because I wasn’t as big as the other guys my age at that time. That was a new rule which got brought in and it helped me a lot.
“I never let what happened at Rangers affect me because at that age, you know there is such a long way to go to make it as a footballer.
“As soon as I left Rangers I was straight in the door at Hearts, so it wasn’t like I was without a club and wondering if I’d ever get another chance.
“But I have always known that physically I’d need to improve and even now I still make sure I work hard in the gym.
“I don’t look at leaving Rangers and coming here as a bad thing. I’ve progressed a lot and done well so I don’t look back on it negatively.”
Smith may be the newcomer in Hearts’ back four but he is actually the second oldest, with fellow 19-year-olds John Souttar and Jordan McGhee both born after his April 1996 arrival into the world.
Skipper Alim Ozturk is hardly old at 23 but what they lack in age Smith insists they more than make up for in big-game experience.
“It’s been brilliant to have been involved recently,” he said. “I wasn’t expecting to come in as Callum has been doing so well. But after his injury I’ve taken my chance.
“It’s an easy team to come into because everyone is doing really well. As a back four, we’ve been performing brilliantly which helps.
“Yeah the rest of the defence is really young but Jordan, ‘Souts’ and Alim have all played plenty of games, so they have plenty of experience and they’ve helped me through these first few starts.
“I was delighted to get my call-up. I’ve only played one game at Under-19s so to go straight into the Under-21s is incredible.
“We’ve got five guys in the squad as well as Billy King, who is on loan at Rangers. That just shows how well we’re coached here at Hearts.”
THE SCOTSMAN ON SOCIAL MEDIA