Is Ryan Gauld Scotland's next star?
Background image: Osvaldo Gago CC BY-SA 2.0
The modern age has done weird things to football. Heck, Robbie Savage is considered a competent pundit these days. Paying £10.00 for a pie and a soft drink at a stadium kiosk is seen as normal. Another bizarre product of the collision between hyper-capitalism and the game of association football is the dialogue springing up around youth players. Every pre-teen who can kick a ball five yards is hailed as the next big thing. That lad doing stepovers on the park pitch is indisputably the next Ronaldo. Every non-league club has a future Ronaldinho in their ranks, and that lad you sink pints with down the pub was once slated to put Thierry Henry in the shade before all that time in the Red Lion weighed him down.
Ryan Gauld is a product of this phenomenon. The Aberdeen born midfielder began his career with Dundee United and was almost immediately dubbed “the Scottish Messi”, drawing the comparisons thanks to his small stature and creativity on the ball. Impressing on the pitch, he helped the Tangerines to the Scottish cup final in 2014 and attracted attention from Manchester United and Real Madrid.
Shortly after the cup final defeat to Celtic, Gauld departed Scotland, with Portugal’s Sporting CP putting up £3million for the Caledonian hot-shot, though Gauld was quick to play down the comparisons to the six-time Ballon d’Or winner.
But the best-laid plans of Scottish super starlets and Portuguese giants often go awry. Gauld struggled to break into CP’s starting line-up, making a seriously underwhelming five appearances during his time there. Instead, he played most of his football with the club’s B team, interspersed with loan spells back in Scotland with Hibernian and with lower league Portuguese outfits including Farense.
Now, Gauld’s career is enjoying a new lease of life. Having joined second-tier Farense on a permanent basis over the summer and played almost every minute of their recent six-match winning run as they establish themselves at the top of the league. Having now amassed more first-team games in the past few weeks than he had in the past five years, Gauld is flourishing. The technical, skill-focused style of football on the continent suits him down to the ground. He’s grown too, bulking out since his time in Scotland, adding a little physicality to bolster his skills. He didn’t even need steroids to do it.
Gauld could lead the way for a new generation of Scots honing their skills overseas, developing abroad while benefitting the national side with freshly developed skills. Diversity improved England no end, who’ve benefitted massively since Jadon Sancho and co went abroad. The United Kingdom’s various football teams stagnated for too long, struggling with the homogeny resulting from a pool of players reluctant to go abroad.
The issue is often exacerbated by the upper management at national setting refusing to keep tabs on foreign players. It’s long been considered by UK based players that a move abroad could harm their national status, meaning their careers are harmed as they don’t make the best moves for them.
If Farense can continue their good form this season and clinch a top 2 spot, promotion would be assured. Gauld would be tested in the top flight, but would he return to his old position in the squad running out once a year to spray passes out to his teammates like some kind of footballing Father Christmas? It’s doubtful. What newly promoted team would drop a key member of their successful midfield line?
Instead, Gauld would be playing week in, week out against top-class opposition like Benfica and Porto. That’s when Clarke, or whoever else might take charge of Scotland, would be forced to sit up and take note...