CALLUM PATERSON may be only 19, but he understands the circumstances behind his rapid rise better than anyone. It is entirely apt that he discusses them sitting in the Scotland Under-21 team hotel on the banks of the River Clyde.
Progress at club level has brought international recognition for Paterson and a host of his Hearts colleagues, many of whom would still be Riccarton youth team players had their club’s finances been better managed. That is the reality of it.
No-one at Hearts would ever have welcomed the money troubles which have engulfed Tynecastle over the last 18 months. The cost of Vladimir Romanov’s recklessness has been severe, with job losses and unpaid salaries telling only part of the story. However, if there is a silver lining to those grey clouds, it is the emergence of a generation of youth academy graduates. Many of them are now first-team regulars and Scotland Under-21 internationalists, like Paterson.
He was promoted into the first-team squad over a year ago by former manager John McGlynn, but even then the tightening of Hearts’ purse-strings was evident. Others have since emerged to fill jerseys left vacant by departing mainstays, and in the process gone on to showcase their own potential. Two of them walk past whilst Paterson is giving this interview. Jordan McGhee and Kevin McHattie, like Paterson, would not be in the Scotland Under-21 squad were it not for their exposure in the Scottish Premiership.
“If we’d had a bigger squad, I’d probably have been pushed out by more experienced players,” acknowledged Paterson. “I’m not thankful for what happened at Hearts, but in a positive sense it’s given me my opportunity to excel and play a few games. Out of the 11 that usually start, only four of them would be playing regularly and the rest of us are young boys just coming through. It’s been a great opportunity for everyone.
“I’m still young and I’m still playing, trying to get a jersey every week. It doesn’t bother me having to change focus from club football to international. I don’t switch off from Hearts totally, I just concentrate on the game that’s coming up. It’s massive for me to be playing for Scotland Under-21s. I played last season as well, which was unbelievable. I’ve still got another year and maybe another year again after that to play at this level. It’s a great honour and I’m really happy to be playing for my country.”
He is not, however, happy with merely being involved. The aim for coach Billy Stark and the young Scots is to qualify for the 2015 European Under-21 Championship in the Czech Republic. Paterson was part of the squad which narrowly failed to reach this year’s tournament. In fact, last time Scotland featured in an Under-21 finals, Paterson was approaching his second birthday.
“Everybody is just playing to be part of this team just now. We’re not really thinking about the past, we’re focused on the future,” he stressed. “The selection has been quite consistent but it is a young team. Jordan McGhee, Stuart Findlay [Celtic centre-half] and Ryan Gauld [Dundee United attacking midfielder] are all here, which is a massive boost. As long as we’re all playing well, we should be together and pushing for the next campaign as well, but we want to concentrate on this one.”
Scotland entertain Georgia at St Mirren Park tomorrow seeking a win which could propel them towards the top of their qualifying section. Both teams sit on six points, with Slovakia and Holland joint top on nine. Scotland lost 2-1 in Georgia last month after an impressive victory over the Slovakians in Paisley four days previously. They are confident of dismantling the Georgians in similar fashion, but Paterson warned of the opposition’s physical threat.
“If we win this game on Thursday, that puts us in the same position at the same stage of the qualifying campaign as we were last year. We only narrowly missed out, so we want to go one better this time,” he said. “Georgia are very physical, lots of big and fast players. I’d say they were just good all-rounders, but they were very big guys. We just need to try and match them. I think we did well enough in the game over there, we just didn’t take our chances. This is a chance for us to rectify the 2-1 defeat.
“We’ve won a few games at St Mirren’s ground and we beat Slovakia there, so it looks to be a good venue for us. Our passing was unbelievable that night against Slovakia. We had a few chances to get a couple of more goals and maybe, if we were a bit more clinical, we would have had an even better result.”
The Hearts triumvirate of Paterson, McHattie and McGhee arrived at Scotland’s headquarters in buoyant mood on Sunday. The previous day, they helped execute a 3-1 win over in-form Aberdeen at Pittodrie, in which Paterson scored one goal and assisted with another.
“I was on a high, definitely,” he said. “We’ve had a bit of time to think about the game and enjoy it, but now it’s right back into another game. We beat Aberdeen earlier in the season, but obviously they are a top team who were flying. It was a bit of a surprise to beat them, but a good surprise in the end.
“The goals came at an unexpected time, but they also couldn’t have come at a better time, to be honest. After the second goal went in, we thought we could go and get a couple more. The third goal sealed the deal for us. I enjoyed scoring the second goal, but I have Jamie Walker to think for setting it up. A week or two before, I think he might have had a shot. Luckily he got his head up and saw me and I finished it off for him after all his good work.
“I don’t think we’ve won 3-1 up there for a while. It was a massive result for us. Everyone was buzzing on the bus back down.
“It was a good journey back home after that scoreline. Jordan and Kev have been on a high as well, so the three of us have been buzzing.”