From cocky underachiever to battling Luis Suarez: the making of Sheffield Wednesday new boy Callum Paterson

Swaggering round the training fields of Tynecastle Boys Football Club in the din of mid-00s Edinburgh, a 13-year-old Callum Paterson was an unspectacular wee footballer of slight build and questionable attitude.

By Alex Miller
Wednesday, 30th September 2020, 10:31 pm

Not questionable in the sense he was a bad lad – Paterson was by no means a tearaway – but in football terms he was a youngster with other things on his mind, a little too confident for his own good, a little less focused, completely unaware of the potential in his boots.

Hailing from a solid and supportive family that attended every match and involved themselves in every tour and event, it was only as he entered his adolescence that he achieved the maturity and drive to succeed that has seen him rack up 12 Scotland caps, play in the Premier League and this week wrap up a move to Sheffield Wednesday.

Meeting his new coach and Tynecastle die-hard Douglas Dalgleish at the age of 14, within a few months he was the star man in the best youth team in Scotland, with scouts from all over the country descending on the amateur club game-in, game-out for a peek at Paterson. It’s a rise that has barely stopped since.

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“Something changed in him as he grew up a bit,” Dalgleish, now 73, told The Star in a sea-deep Edinburgh accent.

“He was not one that would listen as intently as he should do, he had his own mind. You get all different types at a football club like that.

“Some you have to work a little harder with, sit down and talk things through, and we did that with Callum, we sat down and worked with him.

“It was about getting through to him that there was something in his locker that, if he was prepared to work hard, he would be able to climb the ladder.

Within 18 months of leaving amateur boy's club Tynecastle, Sheffield Wednesday new boy Callum Paterson was lining up against Steven Gerrard and Luis Suarez for Hearts.

“At age 12 or 13 he was a Jack the lad and thought he knew it all, but to be fair to him he knuckled down, listened and prospered.”

Tynecastle were not a club without pedigree when it came to developing players for bigger and better things. 54-cap Scotland goalkeeper Craig Gordon was involved with the club some years after a certain Graeme Souness flowered into one of the greatest of all-time.

The pictures of all three, and more, hang on the walls of the clubhouse Paterson has revisted a number of times since making it pro at first Hearts and then Cardiff City.

Paterson also features in the photograph of his under-15 side, national champions and unbeaten all year, with the fledgling future Wednesday man the star man and attracting interest from all over.

There he is, the new man. Adept on the right, in midfield or as a front man, Paterson may well be the physical presence Wednesday have so sorely lacked so far this season. Remains to be seen whether he is thrown straight in - that hasn't been Monk's style of late - with Jordan Rhodes and Elias Kachunga battling for time up top. The Owls are still after a striker, so there'll be competition there.

Dalgleish describes the improving young Paterson in familiar terms, of a right wing-back that could deputise as a forward, with pace, power and an incredible ability to beat taller boys in the air time and again.

“Defending, with every respect to him, is not his strongest attribute, it never was,” he said with a taskmaster seriousness you suspect would send a shiver down Paterson’s spine even today. “He's much better going forward.

“There were times we had to give him a good shout at to get that bit more out of him, but he always reacted and he was well supported by his family. We made them aware there was a potential there, providing he worked harder.”

At the end of their all-conquering season an approach came from Aberdeen, an attractive one-year contract in the club’s academy. Incredibly, Paterson, guided by his family and the elders at Tynecastle, turned the offer down.

Though by then retired, Dalgleish had worked at Hearts for 13 years and knew how these things worked. They would be back, he assured the youngster, and closer to home.

“Our recommendation at that time was that we didn't think it was a good move for him,” he recalled. “He was progressing and would continue to do so at Tynecastle, he was a home lad and to move from Edinburgh to Aberdeen was not going to suit him.

“So he rejected them, a big decision for a player at that age. A year later there was quite a few clubs interested, but not including the Hearts.”

Perplexed, he picked up the phone to Jim Jefferies, a Hearts legend known this side of the border for a short stint at Bradford City then into his second spell as manager of the club.

By his own admission Jefferies had not seen the 16-year-old Paterson play when he signed him on a three-year deal three weeks later. The teenager had been within a day or two of agreeing terms with Rangers.

It turned out to be the perfect move. Within 18 months Paterson had lined up against Luis Suarez, Steven Gerrard and Liverpool in the Europa League and operating on the right was seen as one of the bright young things in Scottish football.

Over 160 appearances for the Scottish giants preceded his move to Cardiff, for which Tynecastle were rewarded with a £35,000 development fee.

Dalgleish said: “He's a really, really good person. He will bring a good atmosphere to the changing room, people will enjoy his company and he will enjoy himself while he's there. But he's got this fuel about him.

“He wants to keep working, he wants the team to keep working, he wants to get results. That's the attitude that has got him there and that will carry on.

“You bump into some of the youngsters that were with us from time to time, it’s great when you meet them again.

“Whether they've made it in the game or not is secondary, our job was to make them better people. Callum gave us the best of both and we're incredibly proud of that.”

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