SITTING in a noisy cafe in Nantes Atlantique Airport, Jordan McGhee is preparing to fly towards new horizons ...
It is easy to forget he is still a teenager with huge ambitions in football. Returning from Scotland’s European Under-21 Championship defeat against France, a pivotal few weeks lie ahead for the Hearts defender.
Ultimately, he could take his career to unprecedented heights if he helps his club into the Europa League qualifying rounds. Long-term, in a sense he is fighting for his future at Tynecastle after the collapse of a move to Middlesbrough last month. First and foremost, he faces a must-win qualifier for Scotland Under-21s against Northern Ireland tomorrow.
McGhee pauses to consider all of the above amid the din of a busy bunch of travellers. His own journey continues to evolve in football after facing the likes of Sebastien Haller, Ousmane Dembele and Adrien Rabiot last week. You cannot help but learn up against such quality.
He is primarily focused on international business, for Ricky Sbragia’s under-21s are clinging to slender hopes of reaching the European Championship finals in Poland next summer. Thoughts of how events might pan out over the coming weeks are also in the back of his mind.
“Coming away with Scotland is completely different. It’s kind of a bit of relief for me, playing back in my [favourite] position and doing what I’m good at. I feel I’m a lot more confident going into the games here, there’s a lot less pressure on you,” says McGhee. “Going back to Hearts, there are a few big games coming up against Celtic and Aberdeen. I just need to take it as it comes. Hopefully I’m involved in those games. If not, that’s football, isn’t it?
“There is only as much pressure as you put on yourself. A lot of players say that but I suppose it’s different for every player. It depends on past experiences, what you’ve done and what you still want to do. Some people handle it better than others.
“We’re looking forward to playing Northern Ireland. If you think back to the Iceland game at home, I thought we did really well and we were unlucky not to nick it. We have confidence to go over there and get a result.”
McGhee partnered recent Hearts recruit John Souttar in central defence against the French and believes they possess the makings of a long-term partnership. Haller and his pals conducted a stringent examination of the young Scots’ defensive abilities but, aided by the outstanding Jack Hamilton in goal, they stood up well.
“Whether it be at Hearts, or another club, or with Scotland, me and John can do well,” said McGhee. “A few weeks ago against Ross County, John made his Hearts debut with me and we won 3-0. He had a really good game. On Thursday we played against opponents you wouldn’t come up against in Scotland, such as Haller and Dembele, who is apparently going for about £40million.
“When you play against those two and have a really good game together, there’s no reason you can’t do it in the Scottish Premiership every week. It’s really just being given the chance and having someone who believes in you. Luckily for us, Ricky believes in it. I thought we did well.”
Both players are just 19 but have already amassed plenty experience of senior football.
“We play the same way as each other, we get the ball down and play and we read each other well and complement each other. That comes from the back four, with Donald Love and Stephen Kingsley. Full credit to them and to Jack behind them.
“Me and John train with each other every day so it makes it a lot easier when you come away with Scotland Under-21s and you step on the field together. John has come in and done really well. He’s a new signing at Hearts and he’s getting his chance and I’m glad he’s taking it.
“I thought we defended as a full team on Thursday. The team shape was good but you sensed that, with the chances the French had, they were going to take one of them.”