Cameron Devlin: Who is the midfield 'gem' likened to N'Golo Kante Hearts have signed
“Like N’Golo Kante”. That was the view of St Johnstone’s new head of recruitment Stevie Grieve when answering a question on Cameron Devlin.
Devlin’s move to Tynecastle Park emerged earlier this month, with the club and player requiring a period of patience due to quarantine, a visas and all other necessary paperwork.
The opinion of Grieve and James Rhys, a writer covering Australian and New Zealand football, who labelled him “an absolute gem of a midfielder”. piqued fans’ excitement early on.
Watching him in action for Wellington Phoenix – who he left to sign for Newcastle Jets earlier this summer – it is easy to see why there is such positivity about the player.
You can separate his game into two sides. In and out of possession.
The midfield conductor
With the ball there are similarities to Rangers and Scotland midfielder Ryan Jack. He made the second most passes per 90 minutes (66.58) in the A-League last season. While the regularity was well below Jack, his 92.63 per cent success rate was better.
Shirt tucked into shorts, head up, chest out, he is so confident and comfortable, wanting the ball no matter the area of the pitch or situation, using his body shape to take it on the half-turn and progress it forward.
For Devlin, it isn’t passing for the sake of passing. He will bring control, direction and simplicity to the Hearts midfield but it is not always just simple and sideways. He is adept at disguised passes to break the lines and was in the top 15 for final third entries per 90.
He favours quick, short passes to move the opposition midfield, something which Jack has shown the benefit of at Ibrox. At the same time, he can zip the ball across the pitch to open up space and switch play, often doing so with an outside of the boot pass.
Where he fits tactically
Robbie Neilson has spoken of his desire to have different formations this season. So far it has largely been 3-4-3 but he is also keen for the team to play 4-3-3 with the player at the base of the midfield capable of dropping between centre-backs. Devlin does just that, helping build play from deep which would allow John Souttar to move right and open up different passing angles for the in-form defender.
With Wellington he played a lot in the middle of a 4-4-2 so is used to playing as part of a midfield duo as he would in a 3-4-3.
Despite showing his ability at shooting from range, don’t expect too much from the player in the final third, his role is about protecting the defensive third and getting the ball into dangerous areas for others to hurt opposing teams.
Then there is the Cameron Devlin out of possession.
Devlin the intense presser
There are aspects of his game which Hearts fans will adore.
In a game against Perth Glory in May, he chased and harried, ending up in the opposition box pressing the goalkeeper. As he did so he waved his team forward, urging them to get up the pitch to keep the pressure on.
That is his game when the opposition have the ball. Intensity.
It is therefore unsurprising that he had the most defensive duels (12.22) per 90 minutes in the A-League during the 2020/21 campaign. It is a figure which would have put him top in the Scottish Premiership. On top of that, he averages more than 10 ball recoveries per 90.
A willingness to win the ball back comes from within. A strong and positive attitude.
His reaction to the ball being played goal side is what all supporters want to see, sprinting back to put a tackle in, make a block or simply put pressure on the opposition.
In the first half of the Perth game, Wellington lost the ball but before the Glory players had time to take a breath and assess his options, Devlin was on top of him, using his muscle to get in and win the ball back.
Or against Macarthur. Dispossessed high up the park, the momentum of the tackle saw him fall to the floor. Immediately, he jumped up, charged back and nicked the ball away so his side could attack once more.
The Tynecastle Bash Brother
He has a really strong centre of gravity, a solid build, adjusts his body so well and makes himself big in one v one situations.
Such a combative style, not too dissimilar to a certain Julien Brellier, will go down well with fans, likely ruffle up a few feathers around the rest of the division and see him on first name terms with the country's referees.
He enjoys a slide tackle which could lead to some awkward positions and with 2.25 per 90 minutes he was in the top three for fouls in the A-League. Such a number would see him in the top ten in Scotland. But, after all, teams, especially in the cinch Premiership, need players of such ilk.
The short of it. Calm and composed in possession, willing to take the ball in all areas and use it smartly. Out of possession, he reads the game well. There is a desire to win the ball back, eating up ground to put pressure on an opponent. He is strong, competitive and combative.
A midfield pairing of Devlin and Beni Baningime is one which opposition midfields in Scotland, especially No.10s, will hate coming up against.
The modern-day, Scottish football version of the Bash Brothers.