Hearts head coach Robbie Neilson insists excelling at international level for Scotland can help Callum Paterson achieve his dream of playing in the English top-flight.
The defender became the first Hearts player since Lee Wallace in 2010 to pick up a competitive cap after playing in Sunday’s 5-1 World Cup qualifying victory in Malta.
Neilson realises that Paterson’s appearance for Gordon Strachan’s side has made his bid to persuade the 21-year-old to sign fresh terms even harder.
Hearts, who stand to pick up a £300,000 compensation fee if Paterson allows his contract to expire next summer, rejected three bids from Championship side Wigan before the transfer window closed last week but Neilson insists the full-back should be aiming higher.
Neilson, who had a total of eight players away on international duty, said: “Callum’s appearance for Scotland reinforced why we wanted to keep him.
“Once you get a competitive cap, it’s totally different from a friendly game. In a friendly game, a lot of players pull out and aren’t interested – it’s a trial basis for a lot of players.
“Once you get into that competitive fixture, you’re the best right-back that Scotland’s got at the moment. That’s what he is.
“The most important thing for a footballer is his form. Callum’s form from now until January or the end of the season will dictate what level in England he goes in at.
“When he goes and plays on the football pitch his form has to be top notch to stay in the Scotland team, and get a potential move as high as he can go.
“He’s definitely ready for the Championship but if he really pushes himself, then maybe lower end of the English Premier League.
“Whether he can get there is difficult to say because they don’t really recruit from up here but he’s definitely top end of the Championship.
“It all depends how he progresses this year. If he is consistently doing well for us and Scotland then he can make that step.
“He’s still a young kid who is developing. Even to go from Scotland to a top end Championship team is a massive jump but he’s more than comfortable doing that.
“Whether he can then go and jump again straight away or has to do a year or two in the Championship is down to form.”
Neilson, whose side welcome Hamilton tomorrow, admits convincing Paterson his long-term future is at Hearts is likely to prove difficult.
He added: “We’ll keep chatting with Callum but he wants to go and play in England and you have to respect that.
“He’s been great for Hearts. He’s played 150-odd games and he’s at a stage where he wants to go south of the border.
“We’ll get a substantial compensation fee for him so we have to accept that as well.
“You can never say never in football and we have to keep speaking and see where we are with it.
“But whether it’s January, next summer or a year down the line, he’ll eventually be in England.”