MOTHERWELL manager Stuart McCall got in on the ground floor of the Ryan Gauld phenomenon.
The Dundee United midfielder made his debut as a substitute, at the age of 16 years and 149 days, in a 2-0 victory at Fir Park in May of last year and McCall’s admiration for the player has grown exponentially since then.
Gauld notched his third senior goal in last weekend’s 4-2 victory at Ross County and he’ll be looking for a fourth when Motherwell come to Tannadice this afternoon.
But, while McCall will be determined to stunt his growth as a player today, he has no doubts that greater things lie in wait for the prodigy.
England expects Jack Wilshere, a full international at the age of 18, to shoulder the burden of opening up opponents and McCall did not dismiss comparisons between Gauld and the Arsenal playmaker.
“He’s only 17 years old and I spoke to a couple of United boys and staff last year and they were already saying they had high hopes for him,” he said.
“I want to put as much pressure as possible on him before Sunday – he is Messi in the making and he has to live up to that billing against us! But seriously, he just looks like a little boy, like the mascot, but he has an eye for a pass and a good brain, which helps.
“Even though he is small, playing in the right area of the park and getting him on the ball is the key thing. United have certainly done that lately.”
In his “other” job, as coach to the national team, McCall has little doubt that he’ll soon be working regularly with Gauld.
“Without wanting to put pressure on him, I hope that he is one who comes through for Scotland,” he said. “He certainly looks like he has all the attributes – if he continues the way he is doing – to be a top player for Scotland in years to come.”
Gauld may have exploded out of the traps but he’ll be up against an opponent, in Iain Vigurs, who has taken the long and winding road to the top.
The 25-year-old was told by Celtic that he was surplus to requirements before he left school and, shortly afterwards, a trial with Leeds United came to naught. Many young men would have simply drifted away from football following that rejection but Stonehaven-born Vigurs was made of sterner stuff and battled his way through Scotland’s divisions with Inverness Caley Thistle then Ross County.
“When I left Celtic at the age of 14 I felt like I had failed a little bit,” he admits. “Simon Ferry, Paul Caddis and Mark Millar were at Celtic and in my team when I was there.
“But you start again from the bottom and work your way up. I went boys club for a season and joined Elgin when I was 15. I loved every minute of it and gained some good experience playing in the Third Division. You have to work hard and keep your head down. It was all ‘touch, tackle’, that’s what I remember most – just 6ft 5in lads bearing down on you!
“They weren’t the most gifted players in the world but it was great to play against men when I was just 15. It was a sink-or-swim scenario because I played at left-back and I had no pace. I’ve enjoyed my career so far and I want to kick on.”
McCall was delighted to capture Vigurs when Nicky Law left for Rangers and he believes that, like Gauld, the player could also have a future at representative level.
“I’d actually heard that he was joining Oldham but then I got a call on holiday in Florida to say that it hadn’t gone through so we stepped in,” he said.
“Scotland have a depth of talent in midfield so it’s best for Iain at the moment to focus on his club form. That’s not a ‘No’ by any means but he needs to stick in here – and start scoring goals – before we talk about that.
“He’s doing fine but I wouldn’t put the burden on him by calling for him to be selected for Scotland.
“But, if he maintains his progress, then there’s no reason why he wouldn’t be mentioned in the future.”