18 Midfielder Sporting Scotland
2014 has been...
As a whole, Scottish football isn’t in a great place at the moment. Few, if any, of the clubs can think about their long-term future with reasonable confidence and the relative masses of money that used to swarm into the game has dried up.
Some is now pumped into the English game by sponsors desperate for a guaranteed global audience and other have simply backed away from a sport that is floundering. The fact that the top flight is unable to currently to attract any sort of headline sponsor sums up the whole situation.
The Scottish Premiership will never rub shoulders with the top league of the continent again. The gulf in cash that has been established in the last few years will never be matched. However, with the right planning by a number of clubs with their own interests at heart and big profits in mind, the Scottish champions can once again become regular entrants in the group stages of the Champions League.
In a similar way to the Belgian top flight, the Portuguese league or even the Dutch Eredivisie, Scotland can establish itself as a proving ground for a long line of starlets in the game. If they get their act together, Ryan Gauld should prove to be the first of the production line out the door.
Within a handful of appearances for Dundee United, Gauld was already being heralded as a player. As a football nation crying out for a superstar, Gauld ticked all the boxes and the Scottish media did everything they could to be all over his every move.
To his credit, he made the right decision in the summer to take himself out of the hype machine and into an environment that would allow him to work on his game. Sporting Clube de Portugal paid a pretty penny for his services, the deal for the teenager is supposed to worth €3.75 million in total, but they followed that up by duly slapping a €60 million release clause into his contract.
Short, left-footed, comfortable with the ball at his feet and ready to go past opponent players as quickly as possible, he was lazily dubbed as the Scottish Messi when making his first few senior appearances at Tannadice. Having joined the club in Portugal that helped to educate Cristiano Ronaldo before his move to Manchester United, that nickname has thankfully not remained.
Instead, he’s been allowed to work on his game without the glare of media attention. Instead of playing week-in, week-out for United with every tantrum scrutinised Gauld has spent his first few months in Portugal battling through a tough training schedule, getting the hang of the Portuguese culture and proving himself to his new coaches.
It might be 12-18 months before Gauld really gets a chance at Sporting and that isn’t a bad thing. Football on the continent is played with a difference pace, with a difference focus and with different skills proving vital to create goals in comparison to Scotland. Gauld will need to learn that and prepare for the set-up in quality in the league before he’ll be a regular performer in the Primeira Liga.
Gauld signed a six year deal when he moved in the summer. It’s obvious to us that he wasn’t signed with the expectation that he would play regularly for the first team this season, even if he has been included in the Champions League squad for this year. There might be the odd cameo here or there in 2014/15.
Gordon Strachan would obviously prefer Gauld to be featuring in the Portuguese top flight for purely selfish reasons of getting him into the senior squad as quickly as possible. Sporting have his best interests at heart as they match their own best interests. They will make him a better player by the time he walks out the door of the club; and that will surely be for a tidy profit on the fee they splashed out earlier this year.
If Ryan is to depart one of Europe’s biggest names – Juventus and Real Madrid both sent scouts to see him in Scotland as did a string of Barclays Premier League sides – it will be solely down to him. The Portuguese giants have helped start the careers of Cristiano Ronaldo and Luis Figo. Given the raw ability that Gauld showed as he delighted fans in Scotland, the coaches will really enjoy shaping him over the next couple of years.
Ryan’s worst enemy in the coming months will be his own ego. If he allows himself to believe that he is the best Scottish player of this generation, he’ll never fulfil that potential. He’ll just be another lost cause to the modern game.
2015 should just be a quiet year for Gauld as he spends his best minutes on the training pitch and playing from Sporting II. We’d like to think there will be games in the top flight and in the Champions League as he finds his rhythm in his new surroundings, but we won’t be too disheartened if there aren’t.
"Portugal's press corps (and some Sporting fans) got their knickers in a twist when the (urgh) Scottish Messi arrived...so the club promptly did the sensible thing and sent him to the B's. When you watch him you can see he's still adapting to a new footballing culture, and a new culture in general. But he seems to have the creative talent to get there. " - Ben Shave
"Ryan Gauld assisted all four of Dundee United's goals in the 4-1 win over Partick Thistle in November 2013." - OptaJoe
C+ He’ll be a much stronger player in 12 months if he listens to the coaches around him.
For Scotland Kit head to JD