Perhaps an unlikely step for a football blog to take during a World Cup, but there was a domestic story today which rather pleased me – Ryan Gauld’s move from Dundee United to Sporting Lisbon.
Young Scottish footballing talents can be frustrating beasts. We have seen so many promise so much and deliver so little. Of that wonderful Hibs crop of the early 00s, for example, only Scott Brown and Steven Fletcher have carved out a reasonable career, while Derek Riordan and Garry O’Connor went seriously off the rails, and Kevin Thomson has been blighted by injury (presumably caused by walking along the M8).
So many others have failed to live up to their apparent potential – to varying degrees, the likes of Mark Burchill, Chris Burke, Kenny Miller and Grant Brebner are cases in point. As I’ve mentioned in a previous blog post, there are two main reasons why so many young Scots have fallen by the wayside over the last decade or so.
The first of these is the demon drink, and other youthful temptations that come with that. We Scots have something of a love-love relationship with alcohol, and often for a number of young footballers the temptation is exactly the same as it is for any other Scottish teenager. When you read the rather sad news today of Derek Riordan involving himself in yet another pub fight in Edinburgh (it’s almost as if he’s collecting them), you only think of yet another talent having fallen by the wayside.
The other issue I noted in that blog post from a couple of years back was stagnation and lack of ambition and imagination in agents and players. Where a player comes through at a provincial Scottish club, be that Aberdeen, Motherwell or Hibernian, often his first big payday destination is either side of the Old Firm, something which still rings true now even though Rangers find themselves in the doldrums. That move often ends with a perpetual sitting on the bench going stale, as those sides go for reliable older hands (often foreigners) rather than risk precocious Scottish talent. The same often applies with that other almost equally unimaginative destination – the English Premier League.
One point I endlessly make to people is that I don’t understand why young Scottish players don’t, for their first big move, decide to test themselves somewhere they can be nurtured, a foreign league where they will get the time and less pressure to develop. Not one of the big-tier leagues like Spain or Italy is necessary – Greece, Portugal, Belgium – countries like those have patently produced some excellent players over the last 10 or 15 years. Any time a Scot plays abroad the technical, physical and mental skills he learns can be put to great work for the national team – see for example Paul Lambert’s incredible year in Germany with Borussia Dortmund back in the mid-90s.
Finally getting to my point, this is why I am utterly delighted at today’s news that Gauld, Dundee United superstar-in-the-making and described by his manager Jackie McNamara as “Mini-Messi”, has signed for Sporting . As a promising young winger, he gets to try to emulate previous alumni of that school of wingers, players of the calibre of Ricardo Quaresma, Figo and that Cristiano bloke you may have heard of having come through Sporting’s wonderful set-up. The move is clearly for the long term too – Sporting have given the 18-year-old attacker a 6-year deal.
Of course, it might not work out, and he might have to come home and play his years out for Celtic, Rangers or even Arbroath. Two things are for certain, however. He will be looked after brilliantly by the staff at Sporting, who no doubt have nutrionists, technical and physical preparation coaches who will make Gauld the best physical specimen he possible could be, while keeping him away from alcohol and nightclubs and allowing him to concentrate on his game. Secondly, he has made a brave move. Though in this case, absolutely the right one. Good luck to you Ryan Gauld – I for one will be following the rest of your career with some interest.