Harvey St Clair hopes to follow in the footsteps of countryman Liam Henderson after agreeing a surprise move to Italy.
The Scotland Under-21 winger – fresh from impressing in the Toulon tournament – has put pen to paper on a four-year deal with Serie B outfit Venezia.
Former Scotland Under-21 skipper Henderson has earned rave reviews after trading Celtic for Bari last season and is now said to have a host of top-flight clubs on his trail.
So 19-year-old St Clair admits he doesn’t have to look too far for inspiration as he prepares for a fresh start in a completely new environment.
Harvey, talk us through what must have been a difficult decision to leave Chelsea. You’ve told us before how important they’ve been in your development as a player.
I’m really pleased that everything’s settled because it’s been on my mind for months. I’ll go out to Italy on July 7 to start pre-season preparations and I’m looking forward to it already, but it was a really difficult decision to leave Chelsea and one I didn’t take lightly. It’s been a very hard decision for me and my family. I first trained with Chelsea when I was six years old so I’ve been associated with the club for a long time now. They’ve done so much to help me over that period of time. They’re a great club with an unbelievable academy. I just feel like it’s the right decision for me at this point in my career. I really want to be playing regular first-team football if I can and with the depth of talent Chelsea have available to them then I just didn’t see that happening in the short-term. That’s absolutely not a criticism of them – just a fact of life. It’s the level that they’re at. Venezia are really ambitious and looking to go places and, like I said, my focus is to be playing first-team football. It’s something I feel I need at this age.
What are your early impressions of Venezia?
Their interest came out of the blue, through an Italian-based agent. It’s a beautiful city, the food’s lovely and the people were very kind to me when I visited. They play stylish football and are a positive club who are going places. I signed my contract, had my medical and then had a chance to look around the city. I also met the new manager, Stefano Vecchi. He’s got a really good background in coaching young players at Inter Milan, which can only be good for me. The other thing that stuck out was how distinctive their stadium is. It’s on an island that you have to travel to by boat, which is a new one for me.
Has playing overseas always appealed? How do you think you’ll take to Italian life?
It has always appealed and I’ve had an interest in Italian football. I think it’s good for a young player to learn a new language and a new culture – the whole experience. Even the bits that will be a challenge, I see that as a positive. The club are going to help me with Italian lessons but I know the basics for the moment. I’ve already been practising and trying to put my free time over the summer to good use. I’ve been practising on my phone with an app, listening to Italian music and I picked up a lot in the two days that I was over there. In terms of the football, it’s very technical and tactical, which I think will suit me.
Scottish football fans have been tracking Liam Henderson’s progress with Bari. He’s made a really good impression. Are you aware of what he’s been doing?
Absolutely. I look up to Liam Henderson and what he’s done with Bari. He’s a great example for me as a young Scottish player who has stepped out of his comfort zone. He’s done really well for Bari and now been linked with other clubs. Maybe some young players are comfortable where they are and that’s fine but I think it’s good to challenge yourself the way he has. Hopefully our paths will cross and I can pick his brains. It would be good to get his take on a few things.
Did you get a chance to discuss the opportunity with anyone when you were away at the Toulon tournament with Scotland?
I had some really good chats with Malky Mackay and Scot Gemmill about my situation and I appreciated their advice. I talked them through the options that were open to me and they gave me their thoughts. I think it’s good to sound out two experienced football people like that – especially when I want to keep progressing through the Scotland set-up. They were positive about the idea of me stepping out of a comfort zone and trying a new environment. Hopefully this will help me stay in Scot’s plans because I want to build on my recent call-ups. Toulon was a fantastic experience and I thought we did well overall.