AS THE crow flies, it is around 1,250 miles from Dundee to Lisbon. But Gordon Strachan believes Ryan Gauld’s attention-grabbing move to Portuguese football will be no more challenging than his own 55-mile trip from Edinburgh to Tayside which began his own playing career more than 40 years ago.
The Scotland manager has applauded Gauld for what he believes is a courageous and ambitious decision by the 18-year-old midfielder to try to develop his burgeoning talent at Sporting Lisbon.
Strachan insists there will be no urgency on his part to call Gauld into the senior Scotland squad and has pleaded for expectations surrounding the former Dundee United prodigy to be tempered, expressing exasperation at the “Mini Messi” monicker foisted upon the Laurencekirk youngster.
But he has no doubts about Gauld’s rich potential and is confident he will encounter little difficulty in settling into his new environment.
“It is a brave move from Ryan,” said Strachan. “I like what he has done. It will be great now to watch his improvement. I really don’t know how it will affect his development, we will have to monitor it and see how he gets on.
“But let’s just allow him to enjoy his first few months there, see how he beds in and take it from there. But I think he’s been really brave to do it as a kid, although travel and communication are much easier now than they were 20 or 30 years ago. It would have been really daunting then, but it should be easier now. He’ll get to learn a new language and live in a more relaxed culture.
“I moved from Edinburgh to Dundee when I was 15 and lived in digs. If you are away from home, you’re away from home. I left home because I wanted to be a footballer and I got £13 a week.
“It took me about two hours on the train to get to Dundee. It now takes about two hours on a flight to get to Portugal. So I like what Ryan has done, to try and add to his football career and take on different information.
“To be fair, the £2 million Sporting have paid for him is not a lot of money in world terms now. I don’t think the move has caused a ripple anywhere else in the world, just here in Scotland. There wasn’t anyone walking around Rio this month saying ‘Oh, Ryan Gauld’s away to Lisbon for £2m – and, by the way, Luis Suarez has just taken a bite out of someone’. So it’s something Ryan can just get on with now, I don’t think it’s a big thing.
“Whoever called him ‘Mini Messi’ needs to take a good look at themselves. He should be able to call Childline or something like that to complain! How cruel can you be to a young player? Let’s just let him develop as a player.
“From our point of view at Scotland, we will just leave communication with Ryan to the people he has already been dealing with at the SFA in the youth and under-21 teams, the ones he trusts and gets on with. Once he gets in the first team at Sporting, then the senior coaches will get involved. We wish him all the best, because he has great talent and vision. I hope he can progress and get to where he definitely has a chance of reaching in the game.”
While Gauld is not regarded as an immediate candidate for Strachan’s squad as he prepares for the start of the 2016 European Championship qualifying campaign in September, the manager has been encouraged by news that one of his key performers is set to be an English Premier League regular in the new season.
Alan Hutton has been reinstated to Aston Villa’s first team squad by boss Paul Lambert after being frozen out since 2012 because of his high salary. The former Rangers right-back is the only player to have appeared in all 12 of Strachan’s matches in charge of Scotland so far.
“His performances for us have been phenomenal,” observed Strachan. “I’ve always thought that if you’re not playing first-team football for your club, you can’t play international football. For most players, I still think that’s true – but Alan has blown the theory away.
“He has been magnificent over the year or so I’ve had the job. So I was very surprised he wasn’t playing Premier League football somewhere. It will be great for him to be playing again – I just hope it doesn’t throw his Scottish form off! He is the only player who has played in every Scotland game for me – because he wasn’t getting injured anywhere else! Seriously, he’s been first class and playing in tough games against top players.”