Gary Locke today explained why Jordan McGhee is likely to have to bide his time before playing his preferred role of centre-back in the Hearts first team.
The highly-regarded 17-year-old, who has been subject of reported interest from the likes of Juventus and Sunderland, has made 19 appearances this season, with the majority coming at right-back, a problem position for Locke.
The Hearts manager is also wary of putting McGhee in at centre-back until he has developed enough physically to compete with some of the Scottish football’s more robust centre-forwards.
“Jordan’s a centre-half, but unfortunately the balance of the squad isn’t great, and with Jamie Hamill having to play in midfield, we don’t have a recognised right-back,” Locke told the Evening News. “I’ve spoken to Jordan about it and it’s not ideal for the kid, but I feel physically at the moment he’s still a wee bit off what we need for a centre-half coming up against the Kris Boyds of this world.
“At right-back, he’s not up against the big bustling strikers that he would face in our league, like Boyd, Adam Rooney and Scott Vernon and these types.”
With four centre-backs – Danny Wilson, Dylan McGowan, Brad McKay and McGhee – and no specialist right-back in the first-team picture, Locke has had to improvise. While he acknowledges that playing out of position is not something most players enjoy, he insists, having done the same himself when he was a youngster, that it will do no harm to their development.
“Long term, Jordan’s future’s certainly as a centre-half but because of the imbalance of the squad at the moment we’ve had to play a few people out of position and unfortunately Jordan and Dylan McGowan have both had to play at right-back this season.
“I’m not daft – I know neither of them are right-backs but we can’t play them all at centre-half. It’s been a problem for us for most of the season but we’ve just got to get on with it. In my opinion, you’re better playing at right-back than not playing at all and that’s the way these boys have to look at it.
“I was the same when I started. I was always a central midfield player but I got put at right-back to start with. If you want to play you’ve got to play where the manager puts you.”
Aside from a few difficult moments, such as giving away the decisive penalty in the New Year derby at Easter Road, Locke feels McGhee has held his own since being pitched in at the deep end. “Jordan’s done well at right-back,” said the manager. “He didn’t do brilliantly at Kilmarnock on Saturday but over the course of the season he’s done well at right back. He looks very assured on the ball.”