AT 18, Callum Paterson is entitled still to be learning his trade in professional football. Having an expert like John Robertson on hand certainly accelerates the process.
The teenager’s favourite position is now striker due to the coaching techniques of Hearts’ record goalscorer, who is working at the club for nothing. Paterson claims he was “just running about like an idiot” last year after being promoted from youth academy to first team at the age of 17 by former Hearts manager John McGlynn. He began at right-back, progressed to right midfield and was being used as a forward until injury cut short his campaign in January. Now fit again, his target is a starting place against St Johnstone tomorrow on the opening weekend of the new Scottish Premiership, with his eyes fixed firmly on goals. Robertson, Hearts’ record goalscorer, has only been attending Riccarton once a week through the summer to work with the Hearts attackers but his influence on Paterson is already evident.
“I’ll play anywhere. Any time the manager wants me to play, I’ll play. I’m not fussed, as long as I’m in the team,” said the player. “Up front is my preferred position now that Robbo’s been in and taught me how to do things. Last year was a bit tedious for me. I was just running about like an idiot. Now that I know what I’m doing, I prefer playing up front.
“I just need to relax a lot more. There was a lot of pressure last year, big Sutty [John Sutton] was out for a wee bit, but now I’m used to it. Playing with a single striker last year, I just had to run in the channels. I didn’t really understand, I was just running about. Now that Robbo’s taught me and given me an insight into what to do, it’s a lot easier for me.”
Amongst Paterson’s main strengths are his physique and running power. Those are likely to be used in tandem with Ryan Stevenson in a two-man Hearts forward line this season. Robertson, though, has taught Paterson the art of choosing precision over power when inside the penalty area.
“I was just kind of blasting chances. If they were on my left foot, I was just trying to smash them in,” he explained. “Robbo told me to relax and just caress the ball in and things like that. He’s taught me a lot in the last couple of weeks. The experience he’s got has helped me a lot. I’m mobile, but his finishing and movement, all that is ridiculous. So I just need to learn from him. He’s unbelievable. The way he describes things, how he can make you relax in front of goal, how he teaches you technique and running off the ball and stuff, it’s just ridiculous. He’s one of the best strikers that’s ever played in Scotland, so I can only take good things from him.”
Asked if Robertson himself was banging goals in during training matches, Paterson replied: “Of course he is. He’s better than me, man.”
Like many of his colleagues, Paterson insisted he is not fazed by the 15-point deficit facing Hearts before a ball has been kicked this season. The penalty is punishment for the club entering administration on June 19 and, along with a registration embargo preventing the signing of new players, leaves manager Gary Locke with a young squad drastically lacking in depth. “There’s a lot [of responsibility] on everyone’s shoulders, to be fair,” said Paterson. “But at the end of the day we’re all working as a team, so we’re always going to try as hard together as we can and hopefully get points.
“If we get the result, we get the result, but at the end of the day it’s not a sprint. It’s a marathon. We just need to get the results during the season. We’re taking it game by game. Just try and get a result and, if we don’t get that result, just put it to bed because the next game is the important one. We need to keep going.”
So, what are Paterson’s hopes for the season? “A longer run without injury, but hopefully try and improve on last year as well,” he said. “Get a few more goals. Get a few more wins as well, and a couple of draws, and that should be us flying again.”