Studying Gareth Bale and Kyle Walker helped convince Callum Paterson his long-term future is at right-back and not in midfield or attack.
The Hearts teenager watched Bale and Walker cement reputations as rampaging full-backs at Tottenham Hotspur and now wants to do likewise in the Scottish Premiership.
Sunday’s Edinburgh derby should see him again selected on the right side of defence, where he was deployed slightly surprisingly against Dundee United last week. He looks likely to remain there for the rest of the season having made his feelings clear during recent talks with the Hearts management team of Gary Locke and Billy Brown.
The conundrum for them is that Paterson is joint-top goalscorer having played for most of the campaign as a centre-forward. He sits on seven goals alongside midfielder Jamie Hamill, but Locke appears willing to attend to the player’s wishes.
Paterson feels his best attributes, such as pace and strength, are suited most to the right-back role he filled regularly as a Riccarton youth academy player. Bale’s progress at Tottenham from full-back to winger to forward almost mirrors that of the Hearts youngster, but Real Madrid’s latest galactico has no intention of retreating. Paterson, however, has been eager to step back.
“Billy Brown and the gaffer asked me where I would like to play and I thought, ‘I’ve had my shot up front, I think I’d be more effective playing right-back’,” he said, speaking exclusively to the Evening News. “I want to prove myself there and make that my steady position for the rest of my career.
“I’m not going to be the guy who does 300 stepovers and whips the ball into the box for a goal. Equally, I’m not going to hold a defender off me and roll him and turn and all that. I’m more of a guy who sees the game in front of me, gets the ball and finds channels and finds strikers’ feet and stuff like that.
“I like to gallop up the touchline and right-back gives me more space to do that than right midfield. I used to watch Gareth Bale and Kyle Walker at Tottenham and they were the two I wanted to play like – tall, fast, good in the air. They are both very direct players and that’s how I want to play.
“Right-back is where John McGlynn first played me for the first team and that’s where I played for the first part of that season. I’d like to go back there and prove myself again. There’s plenty competition there, although generally we haven’t had a great deal of competition for places throughout the season. Everyone is starting to get fit and competition is healthy.”
In a further twist of irony, it was Paterson’s headed winner that separated Hearts and Hibs last time they met at Tynecastle in August. He led the attack by himself that day and scored the most memorable goal of his career to date from Dylan McGowan’s cross.
Sunday will see him positioned at the opposite end of the field, his priority being to nullify Hibs’ threat before getting forward to support team-mates where possible. That does not mean he will simply forget previous derby feats, though.
“That goal I scored against Hibs is one of my best memories in football so far and I’d love to repeat it,” he said. Even an exquisite overhead effort for Scotland Under-21s against Georgia last November pales in comparison.
“The overhead kick for Scotland required a bit more skill but, in terms of the game and the atmosphere, the Hibs goal is definitely the best of the lot. It just meant more.
“It was a derby and I was only 18 at the time. It was just a massive achievement at that period in my career.”
That goal in the second game of the season raised genuine hope that Hearts might avoid relegation despite a crushing 15-point penalty for entering administration. Subsequent months have seen their form slip and leave them rooted to the bottom of the league.
Relegation could be confirmed on Sunday depending on the outcome of St Mirren’s match at Inverness tomorrow. Paterson is fully aware of the ignominy which may await.
“We’re all a bit down about being relegated but the fact of the matter is that, if we didn’t have a massive points deduction at the start of the season, we could’ve been a bit closer to the teams above us. We never really let that get to us but eventually it’s caught up with us.”
Spoiling any party Hibs fans are planning is also prominent in his thoughts.
“Of course it’s an extra motivation for us. Most of the motivation is there to beat Hibs anyway. It’s a massive derby for everyone – the fans and the players. If we lose on Sunday, it won’t be Hibs that relegate us. It’s the deduction at the start of the season that has relegated us.”
Tension is guaranteed and nerves will be as evident as ever as every player on both teams tries to stay focused on the task in hand. Many will have endured a restless night at home the previous evening, but not Paterson. Whether it is an Edinburgh derby or a youth-team friendly, he says he sleeps like the proverbial log.
“I don’t suffer from sleepless nights. I just get my head on the pillow and go straight to sleep. Then I wake up and focus on the game.”