Hearts defender Liam Smith thrilled with Scotland Under-21 call-up after being left in suspense by Craig Levein



Hearts defender Liam Smith admits being left in suspense by Craig Levein was worth it after discovering he had been called up to the Scotland Under-21 squad.

The 19-year-old had no idea what the club’s director of football was talking about when Levein offer his congratulations at Tuesday’s Under-20s derby win over Hibs.

It was not until the next morning that head coach Robbie Neilson informed the teenager that he had been called into Ricky Sbragia’s squad for the Euro qualifying matches against Northern Ireland and France.

Smith (left) with fellow defender Jordan McGhee

Smith’s call-up comes on the back of the right-back helping play his part in keeping three successive clean sheets during Callum Paterson’s absence with a shoulder injury.

The youngster, who is set to face St Johnstone this afternoon, was thrilled with the news even though he was initially left confused by Levein.

Smith said: “I was delighted to get the call. I’ve only been involved with Scotland at 19s before that – so to get the step up, I was really pleased.

“It was quite funny because I was at the 20s game against Hibs and Craig Levein said in the dressing room, ‘Congratulations’.

“But I didn’t know what it was for because nobody had told me.

“I just said, ‘I’m not sure what you are talking about’. And he just said he would need to speak to Robbie.

“It was the morning after that the gaffer pulled me aside and told me and I was really pleased.

“I never had an inkling at all.”

Role model

Smith has not let Hearts down in the seven appearances he has made this season but the youngster admits he expects Paterson to return to the side when he is back fit.

Smith added: “It would be great to be in the team all the time but I’m sure that when he comes back he will go straight back into the team and that won’t be a problem.

“I will just appreciate every game I get and hope to do well.

“I don’t know what will happen but I’m sure the future for Callum is bright, wherever he goes.

“I’m sure he will move on to really big things and if that happens then I would be looking to step into his shoes.

“Just watching Callum everyday helps me. He would probably have been in the full Scotland squad had it not been for his injury, he is a top player.

“Being around him and watching him on a Saturday, you see a lot of things and learn from him.”

Including Billy King, who is currently on loan at Rangers, Hearts have a total of six players representing the Scotland Under-21s and Smith is encouraged by the club’s willingness to give kids a chance.

He added: “They have brought players in from abroad and England as well but there is still the opportunity for youngsters to come in and play, and if they do well then you can keep your place.

“There are five, plus Billy King, in the Scotland Under-21 squad and I think it is a credit to the club that there were so many players in it.

“I will go away with a lot of top players and, when I look at the squad, it will be a great experience.”

Smith has so far proved that he is more than competent with the ball at his feet but the defender insists he needs to bulk up.

He added: “Physicality has always been something I have looked to improve on, my size and using my body when defending is something I want to get better at.

“I just want to be more physical in general because you see some of the Premiership players, there are some big guys and if you can compete with them and match them then it can only help you.

“The sports scientists at the club are helping me and we are in the gym a lot, everything we do is to better us.

“Callum is naturally just an athlete but there are things you can look at in his game and I am trying to do that.”