Hearts intend to develop recent signing Jake Hutchings into a holding midfielder if he can prove himself worthy of a long-term contract.
The 19-year-old centre-back agreed a deal until the end of the season at Tynecastle after being released by Torquay United, and Riccarton coaching staff hope to transform him into a future midfield sitter.
Hutchings has been placed in the Hearts Under-20 squad to let him develop under less pressure than at senior level. He struggled to command a regular first-team place at Torquay because he lacked the required physical stature for English Conference football. Hearts hope he can mature physically but intend to nurture him as a defensive midfielder rather than a centre-back.
“We see him as possibly a centre-half but more than likely a sitting midfielder as time goes on,” explained Robbie Neilson, the Hearts head coach. “We hope we can develop him a wee bit. He’s here until the summer. He has a good attitude and good technique. He came up to train with us earlier in the season and dislocated his shoulder after about ten minutes. He went away to recover from that and now he’s back. I think he’s got a chance. We’ll see how he does with the Under-20s and make a decision on him in the summer.”
Hearts feel the youngster may be better suited to playing in Scotland rather than the merciless physical style which dominates England’s lower leagues. “Jake is a young player who can play centre-half, right-back or sitting midfielder. He’s really good on the ball,” said Neilson.
“His name was put to us a while back so I spoke to Craig Easton [Torquay United’s development coach, formerly of Dundee United and Livingston] about him. He said the issue with Jake down there was just physicality. In the lower leagues in England it’s difficult to get a game at centre-half if you’re not 6ft 5in.
“Jake is about 6ft tall and technically he is very good. Scottish football isn’t anywhere near as physical as the lower leagues down in England. It’s real physicality down there. Teams play the long ball and you need to deal with playing against 6ft 4in strikers. Jake is never going to do that.”