From the bustling streets of East London to the tranquil banks of the Moray Firth.
It is quite a contrast in location. As Paul McCallum prepares to start a Hearts match for the first time in Inverness this weekend, manager Gary Locke explained why he will put his faith in an unknown 20-year-old striker from West Ham United.
McCallum is expected to lead the forward line at the Caledonian Stadium on Saturday as Hearts try to continue some recent good form in the league. A draw at St Johnstone preceded victories over St Mirren and Ross County before the League Cup semi-final loss to Inverness on penalties. Now comes a rematch in the league just two weeks later. That semi-final doubled as McCallum’s debut following his loan move from England. The youngster would have been forgiven for wondering into what kind of whirlwind he had stepped into, especially after missing Hearts’ first penalty in the shoot-out.
According to Locke, however, his first signing as manager is now simply focused on pressing ahead with the task in hand. For McCallum, that is making in impact and forcing Sam Allardyce and the rest of West Ham’s coaching staff to take notice of him. Under-21 football in England is one thing, but the player came north to play, score goals and improve his first-team experience. He scored twice for Hearts Under-20s last week but the intensity of senior football is what he really craves.
When Locke was contemplating a move for McCallum last month, he found no shortage of people in football offering a glowing reference. Now he is keen to see McCallum do himself justice, starting in the Highlands. “I’d done homework on him and spoke to a couple of people at West Ham,” Locke told the Evening News. “I also spoke to Steve Lomas, who I have a lot of time for.
“You don’t just bring people in because of your own opinion, you speak to others and there were a lot of good people saying good things about Paul. He is young and he’s still a bit raw, but having seen him play and having worked with him now, he looks like he’s eager to score goals. He holds the ball in well and he’s decent in the air. He has a lot of raw attributes. In my opinion, he has the makings of being a really good striker. His movement is good. He’ll win the ball in the air and he’ll hold it in for us. Then he’s always looking to get into the box. He’s certainly something different to what we’ve got at the moment.”
That different dimension is something Locke has been seeking all season. Administration and a registration ban prevented Hearts signing players until Adam King joined Swansea City during last month’s transfer window. McCallum was the replacement permitted by the Scottish Professional Football League. The Englishman has previously been on loan at Torquay, AFCWimbledon and Aldershot, scoring a total of ten goals in 24 matches, a record Locke feels gives a hint of his potential.
“From speaking to Paul, he’s very enthusiastic and he’s keen to do well up here,” continued the manager. “If he scores a few goals and does really well, then the management at West Ham will be looking at that. Paul’s been on loan a couple of times and scored goals at League Two level in England. We want him to do the same. It was difficult for him coming into the League Cup semi-final. He was only here a day and he was thrown into a really big game. He’s had the opportunity to train with us for over a week now and he’s played a couple of under-20 matches. He got a couple of goals against Ross County last Tuesday and then he played against Celtic on Friday. That was useful for him to get some game time and get to know the lads a wee bit better.
“I think he can contribute between now and the end of the season. He’s still a young lad, that’s the thing to remember. West Ham have helped us out by putting him out on loan but Paul wanted to come and play and do well here. Getting his two goals for the under-20s will help his confidence and help him settle in. He had only trained one day and then he was thrown right into the semi-final. He’s been able to settle in a wee bit since then.”