Harry Cochrane is a player that was in no way a household name prior to the start of this season. That began to change when the 16-year-old midfielder scanned left and right before receiving a pass and firing a shot low past the Celtic goalkeeper Craig Gordon. That sort of thing gets you noticed.
To score a goal in that manner, against such illustrious opposition, showed technique and composure. It can be difficult for even the most experienced player to perform under pressure, so it is all the more impressive that the goal was scored by a player still at school. At a time when others his age would have been preparing for their A Levels, Cochrane was scoring against Scotland’s best in a 4-0 win.
That Scottish football is trailing behind the rest of Europe in terms of player development is no secret. There have, however, been moves behind the scenes at the Scottish Football Association in recent years to close that gap.
The introduction in 2010 of a series of specialist sports schools around Scotland, the result of a review carried out by Henry McLeish, has led to a more technical focus in the development of the countries most promising young players.
Dean Campbell of Aberdeen was the first product of this new system to make his professional debut when he came off the bench to appear in a match at Pittodrie against Celtic. Billy Gilmour, formerly of Rangers, was another tipped for a bright future but he made headlines last summer by leaving the Glasgow club to join Chelsea. Cochrane, on the other hand, is the first player from this system to start a professional game.
It is difficult to pinpoint the best or most natural position for Cochrane for two main reasons. First of all we have a small sample size to go on. He has played for 845 minutes in Hearts’ first team registering one assist and one goal.
Secondly there is a tendency for coaches to use young players making their first steps in professional football in areas of the field where mistakes are less costly – usually the wide areas. That said, Cochrane has the skill set and profile that suggests his long-term future will be as a central midfielder, albeit one with the capacity to move forward and operate in the final third.
His goal against Celtic was a microcosm of his strengths as a player. The awareness to scan the field twice before receiving the ball, the confidence to demand that the pass be played and the technique to control and finish the chance when the ball came to him.
Cochrane is a very modern player with the technical capacity to receive the ball in tight areas and keep possession under pressure. In fact, he is exactly the player that Scottish football has been crying out for. First there will need to be a willingness from the national team coaching staff to change the emphasis of their style of play to a more technical, passing style.
There are still weaknesses to Cochrane’s game, which is only natural for all players of his age as they are not yet fully developed. He is still rash in his attempts to win back possession. So much so that Cochrane has already picked up his first professional red card in a match against St Johnstone. His decision making can at times be out of synch with the rest of his teammates. There are also times at which Cochrane can go missing in the defensive phase potentially leaving his team exposed.
These weaknesses will be mitigated as Cochrane picks up more minutes at first team level, though. In that respect he is at the right club with Hearts manager Craig Levein showing a willingness to promote and give chances to young players at first team level. Alongside Cochrane we have also seen 16-year-old Anthony McDonald make the breakthrough for Hearts.
Predictably, rumours have surfaced suggesting Cochrane could be bound to move south of the border to the Premier League.
The young midfielder is no stranger to having to change clubs, despite his young age, having previously been on the books of Rangers. He was released by the Gers prior to signing for Hearts and has not looked back. There is now a sense at the Ibrox club that the failure to identify and value the talent of Cochrane could be one of the worst decisions made in the blue half of Glasgow in recent years.
Towards the end of last year Cochrane was reportedly a Leeds United transfer target, linked by the Scottish Sun with a £600,000 move to Elland Road. The deal did not materialise but it would not be a surprise to see Cochrane’s name feature heavily in the English press at the end of this season as his potential is recognised and coveted by more clubs in England.
For now, Cochrane would be better served staying in Edinburgh to develop as a player and mature as a person before making the move south. Throughout his time in youth football there was little difference in terms of potential and ability between Cochrane and Gilmour, now of Chelsea. It should be no surprise if Cochrane follows in his peer’s footsteps sooner rather than later – a cause for celebration greater than getting your A Level results.