Ninety thousand people inside a raucous Wembley, most of them baying for your blood. Scotland require stiff nerves and strong hearts entering the three lions’ den tomorrow. These are the very commodities Callum Paterson specialises in.
At the tender age of 17, he faced up to Steven Gerrard, Luis Suarez and Raheem Sterling at a hostile Anfield with Hearts in a Europa League play-off tie. Now 22 and first-choice Scotland right-back, a packed Wembley in a must-win World Cup qualifier will be the perfect setting.
Not only does Paterson tend to thrive on the big stage, he is enjoying a rich vein of form at present. He is Hearts’ top goalscorer and is putting his hulking frame and lightning speed to use at both ends of the field.
Furthermore, the eyes of Britain and indeed much of the world will be on this England-Scotland encounter – ideal for a player hoping to secure a move south of the Border within the next few months. This is Paterson’s moment to shine on the international stage.
Ryan McGowan, who played alongside Paterson for Hearts against Liverpool in 2012, knows his former team-mate is ready to mix it with England inside their own cauldron.
“If you’re 17 years old and you can handle Anfield in the second leg of a European tie, which was played as an England v Scotland game, there’s no doubt you can handle Wembley four years later with more than 150 games for Hearts,” said the Australian.
“Callum is in a confident streak, playing regularly, injury-free and scoring goals, so I believe this is a great stage for him. It’s an opportunity for him to be in the shop window. I don’t think he’ll have any negative thoughts. His only thought should be: ‘If I have a good performance here and really play well, this could open a huge number of doors down south.’ He could maybe get his move in January if not next summer.”
McGowan left Tynecastle in January 2013 and now plays in China with Henan Jianye. He spoke to the Evening News during his end-of-season break at home in Australia. Born to two ex-pat Glaswegians, he will be rooting for Scotland.
“Typically, the English think nothing goes on further up the road. It’s not until someone performs well against them that they sit up and take notice. I hope for all my Scottish family that they do well, that Callum does well and they get a good result.”
Paterson could find himself again in direct opposition to Sterling, a player so quick he makes the Road Runner seem like he’s towing a caravan.
“I’m not sure if anyone is as quick as Sterling but if there’s anyone in the Scotland squad you would want up against him, it would be Callum,” opined McGowan. “With his size, pace and strength, I don’t think he’ll have any trouble dealing with Sterling. It’s the way England play and the forward players they have which could cause problems. You can be as fast as you want but the way they move the ball can sometimes be very difficult to stop.
“I think Callum will be thinking: ‘I can get my opponent going the other way and make him chase me up the other end.’”
Quiet confidence has indeed been a trait of Paterson’s since he was a kid in the Riccarton youth academy. Former Hearts manager John McGlynn promoted him to the senior squad aged 17 in summer 2012 and he instantly adapted to “men’s football”. A few months beforehand, McGowan had been given an insight about what to expect.
“I remember talking to Darren Murray [then-Hearts Under-19s coach] towards the end of the previous season. He told me Callum was the next one to watch. He said he would play in the Premier League and become a full Scottish internationalist before the rest of them. The likes of Jamie Walker, Sam Nicholson, Kevin McHattie and Jason Holt were all coming through at that time. They’ve all gone on to prove they are good quality players.
“The following season, Callum was in with the first-team squad. He didn’t look out of place. He was already physically strong and built for first-team football at the age of 17. No-one in the team had any concerns about him being in there. Credit to John McGlynn, he put Callum in against Liverpool in the Europa League as a 17-year-old. He’s now played over 150 games for Hearts and is now pretty much first-choice right-back for Scotland. That’s a huge credit to him at 22.”
Paterson started on the right side of midfield at Anfield having played in the first leg at Tynecastle, which Liverpool won 1-0. He was shunted up front late on as Hearts chased a goal. David Templeton supplied it with five minutes remaining and sparked mayhem in the away section behind Pepe Reina’s goal, only for Suarez to equalise three minutes later and send Liverpool through 2-1 on aggregate.
“All the boys knew Callum could hold his own and we did very well over those two games. Callum did well considering his limited first-team experience.
“He was quietly confident, he was never one of those really shy boys. He believed in his own abilities and was also respectful to the senior pros. You could tell he’d had a good upbringing. He comes from a good family and has his manners. That’s something Darren Murray and the youth programme at Hearts were big on. They didn’t only want to produce good players, but good people. Callum wanted to play for Hearts and make a career for himself.”
Like many other teenage proteges, Paterson gained invaluable career experience after Hearts entered administration and were deducted 15 points in June 2013. Experienced players had to leave and only the youngsters were left.
“That season when Hearts got the points deduction and were relegated wasn’t great for the club,” admitted McGowan. “However, those boys got valuable experience back then. They all got 20 or 30 games. If they were breaking through right now, they probably wouldn’t get that. Because of the circumstances then, they were the only players to play. It’s worked out terrifically well for Hearts. They’re now in their early 20s, clubs are sniffing around them and it looks like they will move on to bigger and better things.
“Callum was always quiet but at the same time confident in his abilities. I think that’s the case even now. He’s not too big a personality but he’s a big player for Hearts at the moment. He’s top goalscorer and he must be up there for player of the year already. He hasn’t rested on his laurels, he’s kept pushing on. I hope he eventually gets the move he wants and gets 50-odd caps for Scotland as well.”
Whatever his final cap haul, no game will be bigger than tomorrow’s against the Auld Enemy.