After Callum Paterson this month became the first Hearts player to be capped since Lee Wallace in 2009, many have tipped defensive colleague John Souttar as the next to follow suit.
An impressive start to the season – coupled with the national team’s lack of depth in central defence – make Souttar, 19, a prime candidate to make the step up in the near future. Tynecastle boss Robbie Neilson believes the call will come eventually, if not immediately, and so does a man who’s played with both Souttar and Paterson.
Ex-Jambo Ryan McGowan watched Paterson progress through the ranks at Riccarton before ultimately filling the void left by ‘Gowser’ at right back. The Australian internationalist also played alongside Souttar during a year-long spell with Dundee Utd before returning to China with Henan Jinaye, and believes his former team-mate will wear dark blue alongside Paterson.
“As a defender, you can come in to the international set-up at around 23 or 24, so there’s no real rush,” McGowan told the Evening News. “He can keep getting that experience under his belt with the 21s and by playing with Hearts. I think the most important thing is playing in big games – you obviously want to play well, but you can get caught with mistakes or bad positioning and, at club level, sometimes that can be the best thing for you in terms of a learning curve.
“In international football, if you make a mistake you can be back out in the wilderness. He can learn his trade at Hearts under two great defenders in Robbie [Neilson] and Craig [Levein]. They’ll be helping him on the training ground and giving him everything he needs to become a top defender.
“I remember Callum coming in when he was 17 and like John, you could tell then that he was so far ahead of boys his age in terms of being well developed. He’s done incredibly well over the last two or three seasons having come up through the age groups. He’s played up front, right wing, right midfield and a bit of everywhere for Hearts but he’s really excelling now. It’s all credit to himself and the people behind the scenes at the club for progressing him from breaking into the team at seventeen to a fully-fledged international and arguably Scotland’s best right-back.”
At the other end of the pitch, another of McGowan’s former Tannadice colleagues is yet to make the same impact, but there have been signs of promise in Robbie Muirhead’s fleeting appearances thus far.
“He was in a similar situation to John in the sense that at Dundee Utd it maybe wasn’t working out for him at the time,” said McGowan. “The position we were in, we were struggling but I don’t think anyone’s ever doubted his ability. He’s got a terrific left foot and is a threat out wide or up front. By all accounts, everytime he’s come on he’s made a positive impact but he needs to progress that. It’s all good coming on, but then you want to score and then start. I think he’ll do well this season and hopefully he can get himself another year’s contract and kick on at Hearts.”
McGowan is approaching the end of his own domestic season with Henan Jinaye, with just five Chinese Super League fixtures remaining. Things are going well in his second spell in China, with team-mate and former Hearts striker Osman Sow beginning to find his feet too.
“You’re only allowed four foreign players on the pitch at one time and he’s been the one that’s been missing out recently,” explained McGowan. “He’s started to play a little bit more recently but it’s a difficult league just to come in to and hit the ground running. He’s scored two in his last two games, though, so he’s getting a bit of confidence back now.”
McGowan will head back to Scotland during the close season to see family – something that’s become even more important to him since becoming a father earlier this year.
“Little Harry’s doing great,” said McGowan. “He’s been floating between China and Scotland, where is he just now so I’m looking forward to getting back then taking him out to Oz in November.
“I’d love to take him to Tynecastle. Unfortunately, my fiancee’s family are from the green half of Edinburgh so that’s a battle at the moment! He seems a switched-on boy so I’m sure he’ll side with his dad rather than his grandad ..”