IT SHOULDN’T be viewed as mere coincidence that Scott Robinson wore the Hearts No. 8 shirt during Saturday’s friendly with Raith Rovers at Stark’s Park.
In every sense, he is the heir apparent to Ian Black; a ready-made midfield replacement reared within the club’s own youth academy. Now is his chance to prove so under new manager John McGlynn.
Hearts opted to release Black following May’s Scottish Cup success and Robinson, although still only 20, possesses all the natural attributes to slip effortlessly into that central midfield berth. He is aggressive and dynamic with a touch of panache and vision. He has the discipline to track back plus the ability to charge forward and finish off an attacking move. Ironically, at 5ft 7in, he is even similar in stature to his 5ft 8in predecessor.
Season 2012/13 is made for Robinson to realise his potential. Last year was his first as a regular in the Hearts senior team and he showcased his credentials well, playing 28 times under former manager Paulo Sergio and earning a Scottish Cup winner’s medal. Prior to that, he had managed just 20 appearances altogether since debuting as a raw 16-year-old back in the spring of 2008.
Emerging from the Stark’s Park tunnel wearing the No. 8 jersey, Robinson would have been acutely aware of the opportunity both in his hands and on his back. Black and a host of other experienced mainstays have left Tynecastle and Hearts wish McGlynn to replace them by honing prodigious youth players into first-team mainstays. Robinson has the advantage of having been in and around senior players for the last four years. He knows what it’s about and is ready to assume Black’s mantle.
“I think he can fill Blackie’s position,” explained Sergio, speaking exclusively to the Evening News. “Blackie was a very important player for us last season and he is at a different stage in his career compared to Scott. It’s the natural process for Scott. He is just beginning but I believe that can be his position.
“He has to do it. Someone has to do it because the team needs important players like this. Blackie is not with the club at this moment so somebody has to take the responsibility that Blackie was taking last season. I believe Scotty can do it. He learned a lot from Blackie last season because Scott is a very serious person. He was always focused on what we were doing. For me, last season was the first in a great career Scotty is going to have in Scottish football.”
Even Black himself views Robinson as his most obvious successor. “The wee man is one of the best professionals I’ve worked with,” he said. “Just his attitude alone is tremendous. He’s there every day and he’s probably one of the hardest working players in the Hearts squad.
“I’m sure he’ll play even more this year after playing quite a bit last season. He’s got great ability and is one of the hardest workers that I’ve trained with. I’m sure he’ll grab his chance in the first team.”
Perhaps Robinson’s most impressive credentials are his composure and maturity. He has, for some time, played and acted like someone far beyond his tender years. Prowling around the midfield against Raith, he looked in many ways like a seasoned veteran surrounded by a clutch of teenagers fresh out of the Riccarton youth academy. That actually wasn’t too far from the truth.
Sergio relied heavily on Robinson at various points last season and was never let down. Whether Celtic away or Dunfermline at home, the youngster arrived ready and willing. And it matters not where he plays. Holding midfield, attacking midfield, wide midfield – he is equally comfortable in all three areas and his versatility has become as useful as his energetic approach.
McGlynn used him as more of a sitter against Raith in his first match as Hearts manager. Denis Prychynenko helped Robinson anchor midfield while Ryan McGowan experimented in a new role further forward in support of striker John Sutton. Robinson, though unspectacular, barely put a foot wrong in a typically controlled display. That news is no surprise to Sergio.
“Scott is a great character and a very good man. He is a hard worker,” continued the Portuguese, who remains in the hunt for work after leaving Hearts last month. “He works every single day like he was playing in a game. He is very responsible and I believe this attitude helps him a lot. He has the talent and he is a very good player.
“Scotty can play all the positions in midfield. But the position I prefer to see him playing is closer to the striker, in a support role. He can play this very well. I think he will be a very important player for Hearts this season. He played a lot last season and I believe he is going to keep improving.
“He can have a great season this year. It’s a very important season for him and I’m sure he’s going to have a big part to play in Scottish football. He has the character to take that responsibility. All the people have to do is back him and trust him. He isn’t going to disappoint anybody.”