Why Barrie McKay is the player Hearts fans have been 'crying out for'
There was a time, not so long ago, that Hearts fans were eager to see more width and more pace added to the squad.
The season the team were relegated from the top-flight with just four wins from 30 games, Daniel Stendel relied on youngsters Euan Henderson and Lewis Moore to provide that drive and energy down the flanks.
Over the course of the last 12 or so months that has changed. Gary Mackay-Steven and Josh Ginnelly were added last season, while Barrie McKay is the latest nifty wide man to be recruited.
The 26-year-old is someone keen to get on the ball, turn and drive at defences with his unique running style. He’ll dribble, he’ll take players on, he’ll cross and he’ll look to deliver a killer pass.
These were qualities Hearts assistant coach Lee McCulloch saw in the player from an early age, having been a team-mate of his at Rangers.
“He was always a stand-out, when you look at how he could handle the ball on the half turn, the way he can set up chances and score goals,” he said.
"He’s got blistering pace.
“He was one who always caught your eye. At times, for large spells in his career, as soon as he has got the ball he’s got bums off seats. I think that’s what the Hearts fans have been crying out for.
“It’s good to have him but it wouldn’t be fair to judge him just now because he’s not fully fit.”
McKay’s debut off the bench in the Edinburgh derby and start against Ross County was the first minutes he had played since May when he was on loan at Fleetwood Town.
Not only are the coaching staff looking to get his football fitness and match sharpness on point so he can deliver for the team on a consistent basis but also to help him achieve his goals.
Neilson and McCulloch want to work with ambitious players and for McKay that could mean Scotland and the 2022 World Cup.
“He’s wanting to get better and we’re trying our utmost to get him as fit as possible,” McCulloch said.
“I really don’t see why he can’t get back in the Scotland squad.
“His ambition and his hunger should be to be at the next World Cup with Scotland.
“That’s the things we speak to the players about: ‘What’s your ambition, where do you want to be in six months or a year’s time?’
“I think Barrie should be pushing for a Scotland place if they go on and do their stuff.”
Hearts are McKay’s seventh club of his career and his first in Scotland since leaving Rangers four years ago.
He has spoken about his maturity and it is something McCulloch sees.
“I think so,” he said. “You find that in a lot of younger players when you meet them when they’re older.
“But, to be fair to Barrie, he’s always been pretty laid back, he’s always listened to the experienced ones and the managers and the coaches.
“To be honest, he’s not much different from that.”