A NEW chapter in Jordan McGhee’s career is under way in the north east of England alongside Victor Valdes, Alvaro Negredo and Gaston Ramirez.
Middlesbrough’s list of glitzy summer signings does include McGhee’s name, albeit much further down than his high-profile foreign counterparts.
Hearts is effectively in the past for the 20-year-old defender. He remains contracted to Tynecastle until next summer but a season-long loan at Middlesbrough expires at the same time as that deal.
Thereafter, the future is unclear. McGhee must impress coaches at the Riverside Stadium sufficiently in under-23 matches to earn a permanent contract. They have first option to sign him. He would then likely be loaned out to gain first-team experience elsewhere in England before being considered for Aitor Karanka’s senior side.
It seems a roundabout way to secure top-flight football when you remember he was an established member of the first-team squad at Hearts. In his first interview since heading south, McGhee explained his desire to make his name in England.
“If I didn’t think I could do it, I wouldn’t have taken the chance,” he told the Evening News. “I could easily have stayed in Scotland and played, although I wouldn’t have learned much. I’ve gone to England to different training and a different culture. I will go at it head-on and give it everything I’ve got. If I didn’t believe in myself, I wouldn’t have gone.
“I was in the first team at Hearts when I was very young. I got chucked in at the deep end, whether I was ready or not. I had to get on with it. Since then, my game time got reduced and I feel my career stagnated a bit. The best thing was for me to go and develop my career in a world-class environment.
“It’s now down to me to take this opportunity, take my career to the next level. All my family, friends, team-mates, people at Hearts, they’re all right behind me. Everyone wants to play in England and I’ve got that chance so I need to take it. I’m playing centre-back every week against top players so I have to work at it and get back to where I should be.”
He admits the whole experience has been slightly mesmerising so far. “Small things hit you, like seeing the Premier League balls. It’s surreal. You walk past Valdes and Negredo every day, it’s a huge eye-opener. You look at yourself and look around you and think: ‘This is where I want to be.’
“The first week I went down there, I was floating between the first team training and the under-23s. Valdes signed a few days after me. We were in the rehab room doing a warm-up on the bikes and he was sitting next to me. I was thinking: ‘He’s good pals with Ronaldinho and Lionel Messi and he’s sitting talking to me.’”
McGhee was left dejected when a proposed loan to Middlesbrough collapsed minutes before the transfer deadline in February. The chance to play in his favoured centre-back role for Middlesbrough’s under-23s was a key factor in pursuing the move. He even endured two pre-seasons to ensure he was physically ready.
“I felt I’d been shifted around at left-back and right-back just to do a job for the team and I was unselfish in doing that,” he said. “Now it’s time for me to be selfish and be hungry to stay in my own position. I want to make a career in that position. It’s where I was born and bred.
“I’m in the under-23s but some of us get drafted in to train with the first team. At the start of pre-season I trained with them and I played 45 minutes against York. It was a great experience playing with guys like Stewart Downing.
“It was a case of maybe taking myself out of the limelight a little bit. I’m working hard with coaches down there, working on all the rough edges I couldn’t really sharpen up on in Scotland because my game time was limited.
“I must say, Hearts have been great with me all the way through. I went through a lot of changes there with different personnel. This time, I just felt it was me who needed the change. I needed to get myself out of the club to try and progress my career.
“My contract is up in the summer so it’s down to me to get sorted at Middlesbrough. At the end of the day, I’m holding the cards now.”