From Jurgen Klopp to Jon Daly is a fair contrast in football. Connor Randall made that very transition in the last week and is now pushing for a Hearts debut against Celtic tomorrow.
The 21-year-old Liverpudlian is excited rather than daunted by the prospect. He has played for one of the world’s biggest clubs alongside names like Philippe Coutinho, Roberto Firmino and Daniel Sturridge. All overseen by one of the most charismatic managers alive.
Scottish football has little to faze him. Even the sacking of Hearts head coach Ian Cathro just days after he signed Randall on a season-long loan from Liverpool hasn’t rocked the new arrival. He is simply focused on the task at hand under interim head coach Daly.
Klopp promoted Randall to the Anfield first team after taking charge in 2015. By the player’s own admission, the amiable German has done much to propel his career forward. Klopp may well be watching when Hearts open the Ladbrokes Premiership at Celtic Park, but Randall’s interests are solely on maroon matters.
“Liverpool is a tough place and it’s a club full of great players. I’m here now and concentrating on this season with Hearts. I want to do the best I can for myself, the club, the fans and my new team-mates,” said Randall in an exclusive Evening News interview.
“He [Klopp] gave my chance, bringing me up to the first-team squad when he came in. I’m grateful for that. When he brought me into the squad he was just great with me. He’s great with all the young lads. He’s a great character and a good manager to play under. Everyone wants to play for him and work for him.
“He’s great for young players as well as older guys. He gets the best out of his teams so he’s a great manager for Liverpool. I’ve learned a lot being there every day training with the players and the coaching staff. It’s a valuable experience. Now I’m here for that next step, which is to geet first-team football consistently. Hopefully I can do that at Hearts.”
Randall was an unused substitute last weekend as Hearts drew 2-2 with Dunfermline to exit the Betfred Cup. The result sealed Cathro’s fate and he was sacked on Tuesday morning. Randall’s first week in Scotland is already the most tumultuous of his fledgling career.
“It’s been eventful, hasn’t it? Obviously it’s not a nice situation for anyone but all the lads are just rallying together and doing what we can. We’ve got a big game tomorrow so that’s the most important thing. We’ll do our best for the club and the fans. Everyone is really pulling together in training.
“I only had one conversation with Ian but he’s gone now and Jon is in charge at the moment. Ian wanted me to bring a lot of energy and a work rate to the team. I think that’s what any manager wants. I know the fans definitely want that because I saw it on Saturday. They just want someone to work and give everything for the shirt.
“I wasn’t aware of Hearts’ situation before I came up. I knew they had a bad result the other week [at Peterhead] but I wasn’t aware of everything. On Saturday I was on the bench and I saw the frustration from the fans. It became a bit more clear. What happened isn’t nice for anybody but, as players, we can only focus on what we can control.
“This is massive for me. I’m really excited and I can’t wait to get going. I’m excited to get some minutes in me. I’m looking forward to playing games and hopefully helping Hearts.”
He played right-back and left-back for Liverpool having played midfield throughout his youth career. Hearts will use him in the middle of the park.
“Yes, that’s what they told me,” said Randall. “We had a discussion when I came in and that’s what I was told. Obviously, if the team needs me in another position I can play in different places but it really excites me to play in midfield. I like playing in there and I think I can offer the team good things in there.
“I can sit in midfield or play one in front. I’ve got a lot of energy. I get up and down the pitch and I’m very energetic. I like to press players and be aggressive. Speaking to the coaching staff here, that’s what they want. They want that energy, they want everyone working hard and giving 100 per cent for the team and the fans every time they’re on the pitch. That’s what I’ll bring.”
Debuting in front of 60,000 people at Celtic Park is something Randall intends to relish.
“I made my Liverpool debut and I played against Southampton in the League Cup away and won 6-1. That was a great experience. Any experience playing in front of big crowds is great. It’s so different from youth-team football or under-23 football.
“That’s why I’m really looking forward to getting into the team and getting more first-team experience here. I want to play in front of crowds. There’s a lot more on the line at first-team level. That’s why I’m looking forward to getting stuck into it. Liverpool staff wished me well when I left because this is a big season for me.
“Celtic Park doesn’t faze me, it excites me. It’s another big ground to play at and it will be full.
“It’s a great start to the season, although it’s a tough game. There would be no better way to start than to go there and get a result. All the lads are up for it. We’ll be working our socks off to get something from it.”
It is the first of four consecutive away games to start Hearts’ season. Constructing a new £12million main stand has created a unique fixture list at the start of the season.
“It’s a difficult start but we can prove a point in these four games by getting a few good results,” said Randall. “Then we can hopefully go back to the new stand full of our own fans. That would be excellent and that’s the plan. These matches are away from home but it’s a game of footy, isn’t it? It’s the same thing.”