New Hearts deal will keep Harry Cochrane on road to stardom

Harry Cochrane is tied to Hearts until 2021
Harry Cochrane is tied to Hearts until 2021
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Earlier this month, Hearts fans voted the 4-0 thumping of Celtic at Tynecastle Park in December as the moment of the season at this year’s awards ceremony.

Within that deserved, and somewhat surreal, victory there were mirco-moments, ones which will live with fans for a long time, everything from the home support doing a ‘Poznan’, to David Milinkovic nutmegging former Hibs player Scott Brown as the club ended Celtic’s 69-game unbeaten domestic run.

But perhaps the most special of them all was the arrival of 16-year-old Harry Cochrane.

Twenty six minutes into the match, the midfielder took a Don Cowie pass on the edge of the box. With Christophe Berra’s rebuke for not shooting earlier in the game still ringing in his ears, Cochrane allowed the ball to roll across his body. The coolest customer in the ground, he took a touch with his left, set himself and, as Brown charged towards him, let rip with a stinging effort into the bottom corner.

Tynecastle erupted. Once the joy and surprise had subsided, fans could have been forgiven for rubbing their hands with glee at the prospect in front of their eyes. A prospect who had only played 414 minutes of first-team football prior to the meeting with the Ladbrokes Premiership champions.

Once more, fans are giddy with anticipation following the news of a new three-year-deal for the player, keeping him at the club until 2021. Whoever operates Hearts’ social media accounts has a tough gig from time to time but replies to the contract news have been overwhelmingly positive.

The club have tied up one of the most promising talents in Scottish football, the first Scottish FA Performance School graduate – via Grange Academy in Kilmarnock – to both start an SPFL game and score a goal. He has already attracted interest from down south but this deal should act as a deterrent to those vultures looking to pick up a highly-talented and technical midfielder on the cheap.

Prior to the start of the season, there had been a buzz around a ‘Harry Cochrane’. Even those fans who pay scant attention to the younger age groups will have heard him talked about. Before being sacked, Ian Cathro was keen to integrate the teenager into the first team, while, at international level, he had made a lasting impression with Scotland’s youth teams.

It did not take Hearts boss Craig Levein long to be persuaded that a squad lacking in certain areas required the talents of a 16-year-old to improve it. It could be seen as an indictment to the club’s recruitment, but viewed from another angle, his introduction simply emphasised his quality, temperament and the belief and trust the club have in the player.

Pitched in away to Dundee, Cochrane started in a 2-1 defeat. His first five appearances were very much a mixed bag. He picked up an injury in what was a physical encounter at Ross County before he came off the bench against St Johnstone to introduce a semblance of football.

His arrival helped change the game and it was his shot which set up Kyle Lafferty for the only goal as Hearts won at BT Murrayfield for the first time in the league. He again came off the bench in a derby defeat, booked for a robust challenge on John McGinn, before struggling with the pace of Rangers’ trip to the Capital.

This contrast in performances, the inconsistencies, were to be expected, and still are of a player who was still developing physically and had played little first-team football. But what he offered in terms of possession was unique. Levein made mention of that. Due to injuries, Cochrane was a key element to the midfield, someone who could take the ball and try and give Hearts’ play some direction.

Cochrane told the SFA in January: “I think it’s important to be able to move the ball on accurately and quickly so I’d watch footage of Xavi. Like me, he’s not naturally the quickest but his game awareness more than made up for that.”

That came through in Hearts’ defeat of Celtic where Cochrane helped the team control the game for large spells. Not only did he go toe-to-toe with the likes of Brown and Olivier Ntcham but he bettered them. He was more alert, more decisive and quicker in and out of possession.

He was soon brought back down to earth with a sending-off in the club’s next fixture, a draw at St Johnstone. But Cochrane is not the type of player, or personality, to have his head in the skies. He still cleans Hearts coach Liam Fox’s boots, as well as those of fellow midfielder Arnaud Djoum.

Through the SFA Performance School he was taught humility, such are the intense demands of both school and football. He was taken out his comfort zone, doing ballet and taekwondo to help improve balance and flexibility.

Most 16-year-old’s in his position, when put in front of a camera to speak would freeze, would be nervous. But Cochrane is the same person you see in possession of the ball, cool, calm and confident.

In recent weeks “the fact he is just a bairn,” as Levein has noted, has been more noticeable. His legs have looked heavier as he’s struggled to keep up with the intensity of top tier Scottish football, while there was a striking image of him being swatted away by Motherwell’s Curtis Main during the defeat in the Scottish Cup quarter-final.

It can be easy to forget for fans that he is still a teenager, only turning 17 this coming Tuesday. A picture the player shared on social media from the Player of the Year ceremony showed a young boy who looked like he was at a school dance wearing his dad’s tie rather than a glitzy awards-do for one of Scotland’s biggest clubs.

By the completion of his new contract he’ll still only have just turned 20. By which point Levein wants him to have played at least 100 games for Hearts before contemplating his next move.

It is clear Cochrane has a smart head on his young shoulders, someone with an understanding of his career path and what’s best for his development.

Speaking to HeartsTV he said: “I was just hoping to get another contract at the end of my three years.

“For any young boy coming through in the academy they should be looking at Hearts and thinking ‘this is the best place to be in Scotland right now’.

“They’ve got such a great opportunity to play in the first team – they just need to keep working.

“It’s the same with ourselves; we’re not there yet. We still need to keep going and keep working.”

Hearts supporters are simply thankful that he will continue to do so at Tynecastle, able to watch first-hand the progress of a star in the making.