Jordan McGhee’s priority is to develop into a Hearts first-team regular before he considers any move to England.
Establishing a place in the Edinburgh club’s defence is his sole focus at the moment. Despite interest from Stoke City and Sunderland, bigger English clubs can wait for now.
The 18-year-old signed a new two-and-a-half-year contract at Tynecastle earlier this month with the aim of becoming a first-choice central defender long before it expires. He is currently third in command behind the established partnership of Alim Ozturk and Danny Wilson, with Brad McKay on the verge of signing a pre-contract at St Johnstone.
McGhee admitted today that he is not yet ready to play at the top level down south. He wants to mature physically and gain more experience before contemplating any career move. He has started 14 matches for Hearts this season but hankers after a starting place week in and week out.
The Scotland Under-21 player is aware he is being monitored by clubs in the cash-rich English Premier League, however he is not distracted by the attention. He believes his career will be better served by staying at Hearts for now. Head coach Robbie Neilson thinks likewise having labelled him one of the Scotland’s top young prospects.
“I was very happy to get the new deal sorted and carry on my development here,” said McGhee. “I always wanted to stay at Hearts and play as many games as I can and develop. If I’m going to move, then it will come later on in my career. It’s encouraging to hear what the gaffer said, he’s been brilliant with me and I’m really enjoying working with him.
“I looked at other people that went down south and weighed up what my best options were. Hearts was definitely the best option, stay and develop here both physically and mentally and get games under my belt. If I get a move, it will come later on in my career as a first-team player rather than going down as a youngster.”
For an example of the difficulties a teenage Scot can endure in England, McGhee need only glance across the Riccarton dressing-room. Wilson, the Hearts captain, joined Liverpool from Rangers in a £5million deal in 2010 aged 18. He managed only nine first-team appearances in two and a half years at Anfield before joining Hearts, initially on loan, in January 2013.
“I was more looking at people my own age,” said McGhee. “Danny went down to Liverpool and rightly so because he was playing for Rangers at the time. Things didn’t work out for him but he’s come back up and now he’s cruising through games in this league.
“Even in Scotland it’s more physical than playing Under-20s. Players are more built up and experienced but in England they are a lot bigger and stronger so that’s something you have to prepare yourself for.”
McGhee may find himself out of the Hearts team at Alloa later today after last week’s defeat by Falkirk. Ozturk is free of suspension and likely to be reinstated. McGhee admitted he found life difficult against opponents Rory Loy and John Baird and regretted the lunge which resulted in Falkirk’s first-half penalty.
“It was a learning curve for me, it was probably one of the first times it was really difficult for me for pace up front,” he said. “Their movement was different for me as well but I’ll learn from it and move on.” Would he change anything? “Probably the penalty, definitely. I just lunged in for no reason but I’ll learn from it and move on. I just tried to block it but he’s ran across and nicked it.”
Hearts are determined to respond positively in Clackmannanshire today in the 5.30pm kick-off. “The mood has been positive, the gaffer has taken us in groups, defenders, midfielders and strikers, and told us where we need to improve and should have done better and we will try to rectify it,” said McGhee.
“Last season we were sitting in a completely different situation, we were getting beat in almost every game. Getting beat is always hard to take. We were all disappointed how the game went, we never played to our potential but we came in Sunday and picked ourselves up and we’re ready to go again. Young boys like myself experienced a lot of defeats last season so it stands us in good stead for this season. It’s about how we bounce back.”