Issues affecting Harry Cochrane mean he needs to leave Hearts for the sake of his career
Watching Harry Cochrane’s Hearts career slowly disintegrate has been a strange and tortuous experience for those who know his ability.
He was the impish 16-year-old who famously dominated and scored in a 4-0 destruction of Celtic, leaving Tynecastle Park that day in 2017 with Scott Brown firmly tucked into his pocket. Three years later, he was on loan at Montrose in Scotland’s third tier. Now he is leaving Hearts to rebuild his career due to lack of game time.
Cochrane’s status as one of Scotland’s most prodigious talents was unquestionable not so long ago. His touch, awareness, aggression and swagger endeared him to supporters in Gorgie. Never more so than on that afternoon when Brendan Rodgers’ Celtic saw their 69-game unbeaten run end so abruptly.
It remains, by some distance, the current highlight of his still-fledgling career. Strength and conditioning issues have been a factor in his descent since then but he also found himself marginalised in a congested – not to mention vastly experienced – Hearts midfield.
Fellow Riccarton academy graduate Andy Irving usurped him in the queue, while signings like Olly Lee, Loic Damour, Andy Halliday and Aaron McEneff left first-team opportunities limited.
When Cochrane was loaned to Montrose as Hearts prepared for a season in the Scottish Championship, the writing was on the wall. Hence his decision to reject the offer of a new contract in the hope of finding a new club where he can become a regular.
“It’s disappointing for Hearts to be losing a player of that calibre. It’s never good to lose good, young players so I’m sure the club will be disappointed at Harry’s decision,” said Jon Daly, who coached Cochrane for four years at Riccarton and is now assistant at the Finnish club TPS Turku.
Playing against men
“If you offer a player a contract and he doesn’t sign it, there isn’t a lot you can do. Harry will be thinking he is at an age where he needs first-team football and needs to play against men every week, not reserve football or loan moves.
“He will feel ready to get back into the group but at Hearts there is so much competition. He is probably a victim of circumstances with a lot of midfield players in his position. He has had issues with his strength and had to deal with some injuries as well. That curtailed his appearances and stopped him making as many appearances as he wanted.
“He is still a terrific young talent. His awareness in midfield is excellent and he has that combative side. Even though he is slight, he didn’t shy away from getting involved. He can take the ball in tight spaces and has a good range of passing. He also has an eye for goal, as he showed against Celtic.
“He is a great kid, a great character with good parents who support him really well. I wish him all the best. I might even give him a call and see if he wants to come out to Finland.”
Daly’s last comment is delivered slightly tongue-in-cheek. He is aware of the six-figure development fee Hearts could claim for Cochrane, who spent nine years in their youth system. With many clubs struggling to survive the Covid 19 pandemic, paying such a sum may be difficult. Leaving is a risk the player clearly feels is worth taking.
“If he feels strongly that he needs to move on for his own development, then that’s his decision. Of course it’s always a risk when you’re out of contract – whether someone will take that chance on you,” commented Daly.
“With the development contributions, I know there will be a fee. Sam Nicholson went to the States without a fee so there may be other opportunities outside the UK which wouldn’t cost teams an awful lot of money.
Eye-opening times ahead
“Harry has had a little halt in his game-time at Hearts but I don’t think it would take him long to get back to that level. It’s a big decision to leave a club like Hearts with great facilities and a massive fanbase. There aren’t many clubs like that in Scotland.
“I’m sure he’s thought long and hard about it. When you do step outside that environment, if Harry ends up at a club a bit smaller than Hearts, it could be an eye-opener for him. I’ve got no doubts he will kick on somewhere because he is a talent.”
Cochrane’s desire since signing his first professional contract in 2017 has simply been to play regularly for the Edinburgh club. A succession of coaches speak of a grounded and humble individual who did not allow a new deal complete with wage rise go to his head the following year.
However, the ongoing lack of match action simply became too much for him to endure. He agreed to a loan spell at Dunfermline in 2019 under then-Hearts manager Craig Levein. He returned in January 2020 but couldn’t impose himself under Levein’s replacement, Daniel Stendel.
The same scenario played out when Robbie Neilson appeared back at Tynecastle to take over from Stendel last summer.
“Like most players, you are disappointed that you aren’t wanted at your parent club,” recalled Daly. “Harry knew he had to go to Dunfermline and do his best. We had people going to watch the loan players and doing reports and we would speak to the managers.
“When you loan youngsters out, it’s important they understand you aren’t loaning them out because they aren’t good enough. Harry was loaned out because first-team opportunities were going to be limited at the time.
“Playing for a club like Dunfermline was a better option for him than staying at Hearts to play 10 or 15 minutes here and there. He was fully supportive of that from what I remember.”