JOHN ROBERTSON reckons Callum Paterson will thrive on regular first-team football – no matter where he is asked to play.
The 17-year-old has been involved in all eight competitive games of the new campaign since making his first-team debut for Hearts in pre-season.
Paterson has been a familiar face in defence or the right side of midfield under John McGlynn but, in a move that surprised many last weekend, the Hearts manager unleashed the player in attack and dropped John Sutton to the bench.
While the decision to start Paterson up front in Paisley came out of the blue for many supporters, it didn’t surprise Robertson – despite Hearts suffering a 2-0 defeat.
He knows that the youngster has been played in a number of different roles in the Tynecastle youth sides and that he is well capable of doing a job up front.
Paterson didn’t seem fazed by the switch either, coming close on a couple of occasions and was maybe just a few inches away from making himself a hero with the Hearts support.
Robertson believes that, far from worrying about where he will be asked to play next, Paterson will simply be relishing the challenges that McGlynn presents him with over the coming months.
If anyone is qualified to assess Paterson’s chances of making his mark in attack, it is Hearts’ legendary goalscorer who has spent time coaching the art of attack to Hearts players in recent years. He said: “As a young lad, your dream is to play first-team football. When you sign for Hearts, or any other club for that matter, all you want is to fight your way into that team.
“It’s fantastic when you’re suddenly playing in front of big crowds and alongside household names. And he will just be loving being involved.
“He has got a real presence and I don’t see a major problem with him playing up there if that is where John McGlynn needs him to play.
“He has played in there in the past. I know that there are a lot of people questioning the decision to play him in there but he’s familiar with that role and, in the youth sides, he would have played in all sorts of positions.
“He is a big strong, powerful boy and his attributes are going forward.
“At this moment in time Hearts are looking for an answer in terms of someone who can score them a few goals and they are trying different people out. Callum is strong and quick and that seems to be what people are looking for in a modern-day striker.”
Robbo himself was just a teenager when he made his debut for Hearts and he was joined in that line-up by the likes of a youthful Gary Mackay, David Bowman and Ian Westwater.
He concedes that there was probably less pressure on his shoulders than those of Paterson and continued: “We were just young boys when we first got into the Hearts team but that was in the First Division, so there was probably a wee bit less pressure on us.
“It can be difficult to blood younger players in the Premier League but Hearts have done it in the past with Allan Johnston, Gary Locke, Paul Ritchie and Allan McManus, so it can be done.
“And, let’s face it, John McGlynn knows what he is doing, as does John Murray, in regards to developing young lads into professional players.
“The good thing is that young boys are fearless, they thrive on this kind of thing.
“He will just be delighted to be involved and to be playing first-team football and, to be honest, if you told Callum Paterson to play in goals right now he would probably be happy to do it.
“That is the kind of attitude that you get from younger players and it is great to see that.”
Robertson says that Paterson’s willingness to be flexible in relation to where the manager needs him will prove invaluable to McGlynn, who is working with a much-tightened budget this season.
And it could mean more appearances for Paterson too. “I remember a few years ago,” Robertson recalled, “when Scott Robinson didn’t go on a pre-season trip with Hearts because they wanted to play him up front as they had injuries but he told them that he wanted to play in midfield, so they didn’t take him.
“It’s refreshing to see someone doing this and playing exactly where the manager needs you at that point in time.”
There have been calls for Hearts to go with two up front but Robbo reckons that McGlynn and Co are more likely to stick with the 4-2-3-1 formation, or at least a variation of that, which was used so often under Paulo Sergio. He doesn’t expect to see Paterson and Sutton in the same frontline on a regular basis and thinks that those with an affiliation to Hearts must accept that their side are likely to score less goals than in previous seasons.
He added: “At the moment, I think that they are sticking pretty much to the same system that Sergio played last year.
“It would appear that they are going to go with just the one man up front right now. Last year they had guys like Rudi Skacel, Craig Beattie and Stephen Elliott and most of the goals came from Rudi in midfield.
“It’s going to be difficult to find someone else who can score that many from the middle of the park.
“Maybe someone like Mehdi Taouil can come into that kind of role and try to add a few goals this season. The stark realisation is that Hearts are not going to score as many goals as they did last season. Rudi was a unique player and they don’t often come along.”
It is certainly changed days at Tynecastle – the departures of so many first-team regulars from last season have seen to that. And Jambos have been well warned that their side will have to rely on younger, less experienced members of the squad for the foreseeable future. But Robertson believes that Hearts still have enough quality in their squad to be up there challenging come the end of the season.
“If you look at the current squad, I think that they are still capable of being in the top three this season. Although a lot of players have left, there is still a lot of experience in there too.
“Jamie MacDonald is 26 now and has got a lot of games under his belt too, McGowan, Webster, Grainger, Zaliukas, Taouil, Barr, Stevenson.
“When you run through them, there is still an awful lot of potential in that side.”