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James McPake reveals he tried to sign ‘huge talent’ Craig Wighton TWICE for Dundee – and is ‘delighted’ to have him at Dunfermline

Craig Wighton's playing time at Dunfermline was limited.
Craig Wighton started up front.

Craig Wighton is one of those players who can suffer from people not appreciating how young he still is – and what he has achieved in that time.

Now 24, and turning 25 next month, he is certainly no callow youngster. Neither was he when as a 16-year-old he became Dundee’s youngest ever goalscorer.

Nor was he when, just short of his 19th birthday, he scored an iconic
last-minute winner to relegate their fiercest rivals.

Or when he aided a Scotland under-20s side to victory against Brazil at the Toulon Tournament in 2017.

Despite this, there remains a feeling he hasn’t quite fulfilled his potential.

This is, in part at least, down to his progress suffering a setback when he picked up a cruciate ligament injury in a bounce game versus Bristol City.

From crisis can come opportunity. Even if his current boss has had to wait until now for the opportunity to manage – something that has “frustrated” McPake – he is a player he retains a lot of respect for.

“I’ve tried to sign him twice, at Dundee,” said McPake. “I tried to bring him back the first time he went to Arbroath, then the second time.

“For whatever reason it fell through. I’ve got a lot of time for him as a person, a real good character.

“He’s been very unfortunate, in my opinion, with injury. He had a bad knee injury, I remember the game.”

That’s where the now-Dunfermline manager – who is currently nearing the end of a long road to recovery from a knee injury – got an insight into the player’s mettle.

From there, Wighton fought to full fitness which culminated in a six-figure move to Hearts.

“That’s when you see how hard someone really wants to go,” added McPake.

“I watched him fight his full way back, earn his move, which was a great move.

“Then he’s had some good times at a big club. I’m delighted he’s here.

Craig Wighton in action for Dunfermline.

“He’s been a player that’s frustrated me [because] I never had the chance to work with.

“Even though I was the reserve manager [at Dundee] and I had him in my team, he’s been a player that I’ve always wanted to coach and manage.”

Wighton made his debut for Dundee just 70 days after turning 16. A month later he became the club’s youngest ever scorer in a victory over Raith Rovers.

He has represented Scotland up to under-21 level and even though he didn’t quite get going at Tynecaslte – experiencing more injury issues – he did have his moments.

That included a hattrick in the League Cup, once again versus Raith Rovers.

Since then he has enjoyed successful yet short loans at Arbroath and Dunfermline before signing for the Pars in the summer of 2021.

He started well last season, scoring three times in the newly rebranded Premier Sports Cup but then failed to find the target again under two managers during a difficult season.

He was subsequently loaned to Arbroath once again, leaving behind a relegation battle to challenge for the title with the Red Lichties.

“He’s a huge talent, but Craig needs to do it,” said the Dunfermline boss.

“He knows that himself. But what I’ve seen of him so far, he’s willing to put the work in.

“If we can get the best out of Craig Wighton then we’ve got a very talented player at this football club.”

Wighton featured as part of a front three with Kevin O’Hara and Lewis McCann, who both found the net, in Saturday’s 2-0 friendly win over Cove Rangers.

Next they travel to take on Forfar before playing Stenhousemuir in a bounce game and Kilmarnock at East End Park. Then the competitive action gets under way.

McPake is delighted to now have the chance to coach Wighton into the player he has shown he can be: “He hit those heights when he was 16.

“I can remember training with him that first day, thinking ‘wow’.

“Maybe that’s gone against him. He’s had the hype of coming through the Scotland squads, up to the 21s.

“All the way through at Dundee he was involved. He scored some very big goals.

“That tag follows you around and then when you have a bad spell, people are hard on you.

“You’ve got to remember his age, he’s not old. “if we can get him anywhere near those levels, I’ve got a fantastic football player at this club.

“He’ll be here. He’ll not be going on loan this time.”

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