VOLLEYS, headers, overhead kicks, left foot and right. Callum Paterson scores all manner of goals to belie the fact he is actually a full-back.
Three in his last three games for Hearts takes his total to seven for the season so far. Yet he could easily be bulging nets at Ibrox instead of Tynecastle.
Paterson is a player for whom the phrase “rampaging right-back” could easily have been coined. His athleticism, aerial spring and physical prowess have been a feature of Hearts matches in this year’s Ladbrokes Premiership. Then there is the appetite and energy to hit the penalty box and become a genuine attacking threat.
All of the above persuaded Rangers he was worth signing from Tynecastle Boys Club in 2010. Hearts were aware of a 15-year-old playing on Tynecastle’s right wing with pace to burn but hadn’t intended signing him. Were it not for the intervention of Gary Mackay and Tynecastle BC chairman Dougie Dalgleish, Paterson may well have been lured to Glasgow.
It took Jim Jefferies, the then-Hearts manager, and his assistant Billy Brown to act quickly after Dalgleish and Mackay recommended Paterson to them. He signed for the club in summer 2010 and, within two years, found himself up against Steven Gerrard and Liverpool in the Europa League at Anfield.
“When Jim and I were at Hearts, Paterson wasn’t signed,” explained Brown. “He played with Tynecastle Boys Club and I don’t think Hearts were going to sign him. I don’t think John Murray [Hearts’ youth academy director at the time] was going to sign him.
“Dougie Dalgleish came to see myself and Jim and said this boy was worth signing. He said Rangers were after him, so Jim and I signed him. We hadn’t seen him play but Dougie and Gary Mackay both recommended him and they are fair judges of players. Dougie and Gary are Hearts men and they wanted him to come to us.”
Paterson progressed rapidly from the Riccarton youth academy to, by the age of 17, the first team. Now 21, he is a key part of the Hearts defence and one of the club’s prized assets as they challenge for European qualification. He has also successfully married his defensive attributes to an uncanny knack of hitting the back of the net.
Having played centre-forward and right midfield, Paterson is settled in his more natural right-back berth. That doesn’t mean he won’t be utilised as an emergency striker from time to time. Head coach Robbie Neilson shunted the player up front for both of Hearts’ trips to Cowdenbeath last season. And, as if to typify his versatility, he scored in both matches.
“He played wide right a lot when he first came to Hearts,” recalled Brown. “When I went back to Hearts to help out Gary Locke [as assistant coach in 2013], we had to play him at centre-forward a lot as you know. We only had Dale Carrick, who was injured, and then Ryan Stevenson got injured so we were only left with Callum. He did exceptionally well up front for a boy who wasn’t a natural striker.
“He’s a big, strong lad. He’s good in the air and he’s a good athlete. Boys like that thrive in football these days and he could go further. He’s a smashing big boy who is never any trouble. His ideas are a wee bit weird at times. I saw on the telly last season and he had a wee goatee beard, so I think he’s a wee bit eccentric in some ways, but never any bother.
“He’s a good lad who works hard in training and he’s getting his just rewards at the moment. For a right-back to score as many goals as he has is tremendous. He got into the Scotland squad last year as well.”
He is certain to be named in the Scotland squad again in March, with national coach Gordon Strachan eager to give younger players a chance at international level. Before then, Paterson returns to the scene of perhaps his most frustrating day in football. This Sunday Hearts head to Hamilton looking to avenge a dramatic 3-2 defeat there last August, a game in which their right-back was wrongly sent off with his team leading 2-1.
The injustice served as a motivation over subsequent weeks and months. By late September, Paterson was delivering a standout display to help shut out league champions Celtic in Glasgow. “I watched him earlier in the season at Parkhead. I was at the Celtic-Hearts game which finished 0-0,” said Brown.
“James Forrest played directly against Callum that day and Callum played him really well. He got a yellow card quite early on but he really came of age that day. He handled an out-and-out winger who was pushed right up against him at a really difficult venue. He coped with it all really well. I came away from Parkhead that day thinking he had come on a ton. He’s continued that and he keeps proving it week after week.
“He’s made the step up to the Premiership. He had played in the top flight before as a centre-forward mostly. We put him to right-back once we got centre-forwards fit but he hasn’t played right-back for all that long. With his physical attributes, his power in the air and the fact he likes to get forward and score goals, who knows how far he can go?
“There are bound to be English clubs looking at him. When you go down to England, most of the players are massive, especially the defenders. Callum has got that asset with his physique. I think he can go on from where he is and get better.”