David Hopkin tips Hearts defender Craig Halkett for Scotland squad
Craig Halkett is pushing for his first Scotland call-up after an impressive start to the season at new club Hearts. The man who helped launch his career argues that the defender should already be there.
As Livingston manager, David Hopkin plucked Halkett from the relative obscurity of Rangers Under-20s and transformed him into a Championship promotion-winning captain who then thrived at Premiership level. He is adamant the 24-year-old deserved international recognition even before his summer move to Hearts.
“I think he should have got a call-up last year,” said Hopkin, now managing Morton. “Sometimes we overlook players, maybe because Craig was playing at Livingston. I think that’s just the way football has been that you have to go to a bigger club. Craig felt he had to move on and he got a three-year deal at Hearts. Now you will probably see him getting called up in the near future.
“The impact he has made at Hearts doesn’t surprise me at all. He is a determined boy.”
Hopkin played seven times for Scotland and would not expect Halkett to be fazed by a promotion to international level. “No, not at all. He’s got a fantastic mindset and great belief in his ability. That comes from confidence. He is only 24 but he’s played nearly 200 senior games now.
“You can tell he has that willingness to do well. We coached him and worked him hard at Livingston. He got physically better and just kept growing in confidence and stature. I think you can see now what a good defender he is. I couldn’t believe nobody took him earlier.
“Even the season before last, he was fantastic for Livingston in the Championship. I said at the time Craig was probably one of the best defenders in Scotland. He trains the way he plays and deserves everything he gets.”
Halkett’s rise from unknown Rangers youth to prospective Scotland cap can be traced back to cold evenings under Dumbarton Rock during the winter of 2015.
“When I took him from Rangers he was only 20,” explained Hopkin. “I used to go and watch the Under-20 games at Dumbarton and I liked him. He was aggressive, not your typical academy player. I liked everything about him – physique, size and ability. He was playing centre-back and somebody told me he used to be a striker.
“When he started training with us, you could see right away he could finish. He has two great feet, he is aggressive and good in the air. Whenever we did shooting drills in training, Craig would always join in. There was a bit of work to be done with him but you need to give him full credit because he has worked so hard. Look at the condition he is in now. That’s all down to Livingston as a club and Craig as an individual.
“A lot of people leave Rangers or Celtic and disappear. I think Craig had a point to prove. I’m glad he did it. He listened and learned and that’s why he has progressed. Playing at a club like Hearts, with the facilities and players they have, he will push on further. That’s no disrespect to Livingston. Craig was part of a back three there which was very successful over a two-and-a-half-year period. He has a great inner belief in himself, which is a brilliant trait to have. People who get to the top all have that in their mentality.”
Hearts, a club who prioritise recruiting good role models for youth players, have an ideal mentor in their new centre-back. “Younger players need to have a look at Craig,” insisted Hopkin. “At 19, he wasn’t playing. He dropped down a division to play first-team football. That is the way forward. You need to get young guys playing on a Saturday to get them used to coming up against men. That’s the only way they will develop quicker.”