Describing himself as a “punt-and-run kind of guy”, Callum Paterson seems suited to Neil Warnock’s old-school management style.
The Yorkshireman is threatening to drive the Cardiff City juggernaut all the way into England’s Premier League using traditional methods, and Paterson is loving the ride in his first season down south.
He left Hearts last May on freedom of contract despite being months away from fitness. An anterior cruciate ligament injury sidelined him for ten months in total, but he has recovered and reinvented himself in the Welsh capital.
Playing as an attacking midfielder in the No.10 role, the 23-year-old is a key component of Warnock’s athletic and industrious Cardiff team. That will read strangely for Tynecastle regulars used to seeing him at right-back, but then he did have spells at centre-forward and on the wing with Hearts. There was even an emergency appearance at centre-half.
His enthusiasm typifies Warnock’s side as they maintain an unexpected promotion tilt. Sitting second in the English Championship, they are seven points clear of Fulham and Aston Villa in joint third. Paterson’s eight goals, including three in his last three games, have played a part as the holy grail of British football beckons.
Interest from West Ham United hinted at a straight jump for the player from Scotland’s top league in December 2016. Then injury struck, obliterating any chance of a move in the January transfer window. However, he has taken warmly to Wales, Warnock and winning.
“Like you say, he’s old school,” Paterson said of his manager. “All the other teams around us are playing the new-style football with wing-backs and pass-and-move. But the old school seems to be working at the moment so he’s not going to change that any time soon.
“It’s going well for me at the moment but everyone knows the Championship is a funny old league and anything can happen. We’ve got to be positive and look to go up.
“The Championship is a massive league. It is tough to play there week in, week out. I didn’t get much of a sniff at the start. The team was doing well and I was just coming back from injury. I have shoehorned my way into a position that I am doing well in and I want to try and keep hold of that. The team is doing well at the minute. It is good to be part of it.”
His goal celebrations are surely worthy of a grander platform. Cardiff fans have grown fond of Paterson’s antics after hitting the net as he comes up with different quirky ways of celebrating each strike. “They are going down really well, actually,” he smiled. “My mum sent me a text saying : ‘Keep the celebrations going son!’ I play a game on the PS4. That gives me ideas for my celebrations. I am just trying to rattle them off.”
Warnock will also favour the light-hearted approach. The manager has jokingly questioned Paterson’s ability to defend and even his dress sense.
“I had my kilt on and he wasn’t happy! I’m just happy to have a smile on my face. It doesn’t matter what I wear at the end of the day. It’s nice to know that he’s thinking about me and talking about me. I’m not a material guy. I’m delighted just to be there.”
Likewise the Scotland squad. Paterson arrived back in Edinburgh this week hoping for his sixth and seventh full caps in friendlies against Costa Rica tomorrow and Hungary on Tuesday. His last international appearance was against England at Wembley back in November 2016.
“He [Warnock] is obviously happy enough for me to get involved with the national team. It reflects well on him and how Cardiff are doing as a team. He is more than happy to get the boys away and get some time with the national team.”
It is just reward for Paterson’s persistence during that enforced ten-month absence. He was two weeks away from a life-changing transfer when he suffered a devastating ACL injury two days after Christmas. The stress bore heavily on him, his relatives and even family pets.
“Everything happens for a reason,” said the player. “I have said that in the past. Things can go well at other parts of the season. I am doing really well at the moment. I am happy to be part of Cardiff and happy to be back in the national fold and back playing. It keeps my mind positive and everything else positive.
“It shows that I’m strong-minded and am always positive. Even when I was injured I was always positive. I had a smile on my face and I just got on with it. You play the hand you’ve been dealt. I am happy to back playing and back doing well.
“Right away when I did the injury, that was a low point. Everyone knows a cruciate is nine months to a year. I only had six months left on my contract. It wasn’t a good situation for me, my girlfriend, my family. Even my cat was stressed! I’m kidding. My cat is a good guy. Like I said, you’ve got to be positive. Everything happens for a reason. It wasn’t meant to be.”
It is only natural to wonder how exactly a cat would demonstrate stress. “He tells me. He talks to me,” smirked Paterson. “I am a dog person. My missus likes cats. She tells me it’s stressed.”
Perhaps the tension made the Scot forget which big English clubs were circling Tynecastle at the time. Or perhaps he deliberatley blanked the information out. “I’m not sure. I think it was West Ham. There was a bit of paper stuff, but nothing was set in stone. Thankfully, Neil took a chance on me and I have repaid him for that.”
The next, arguably final, phase of Paterson’s rehabilitation is to repay Alex McLeish for naming him in his first Scotland squad. If that happens to involve a return to right-back, so be it.
Left-back Kieran Tierney has filled in there for Scotland but Paterson is the obvious choice to play the position long-term. McLeish stated he intends to use the Celtic defender on the left.
“Kieran did well there. Obviously it’s not his natural position. If he’s not playing in that position it leaves an opportunity for me. Some of the young boys who have come in are playing in the English Premier League and it’s great to have them as a country. That’s a positive for us. We’ve just got to get off on the right foot.”
Paterson should be able to help on that front given his instant impact with Cardiff.