RYAN Gauld has been advised he must improve significantly if he hopes to make the grade at senior level in Portuguese football.
The former Dundee United playmaker scored his second goal of the season on Sunday for Sporting Lisbon’s B team in a second-tier league fixture.
Five months after earning his eye-catching £3 million move to the club, Gauld has yet to feature in the first team. The Scotland under-21 international, who will celebrate his 19th birthday next Tuesday, has been confined to Sporting’s B squad who play in the country’s Segunda Liga.
In Sunday’s 4-3 win away to Oriental, Gauld netted a stunning long-range volley which has already been widely viewed online. But his performance and progress have also been subjected to critical analysis by former Hearts midfielder Bruno Aguiar, who lined up against Gauld for Oriental at the weekend.
“I don’t know if Ryan will ever become a top player,” said Aguiar. “You can’t say what will happen in the future. But he needs to improve more and more to make it into the first team at Sporting. You must work very hard to make it at the top level. At this time, right now, he still has work to do. He needs to show more if he wants to play for Sporting A.”
Now 33, Aguiar is back in his home city of Lisbon with Oriental after spending five seasons in Cypriot football with Omonia Nicosia following his departure from Hearts in 2009.
Aguiar is well acquainted with the career path Gauld is now undertaking at B team level in Portugal, having served a similar apprenticeship with Sporting’s great rivals Benfica more than a decade ago.
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“Around 12 years ago I was in the same place as Ryan is now, playing in the Segunda Liga when I was at Benfica,” he explained. “It is not an easy place to play. I was at Benfica B and I can tell you it is competitive for an 18 year-old kid. It is different to the Scottish Premiership – the stadiums are not so good and you don’t have a lot of fans watching. It is not perfect but he is playing in a league which is very competitive and that will be very good for him to improve the quality he has. He is in the right place to get better.
“I don’t watch a lot of the Segunda Liga matches so Sunday’s game was the first time I’ve seen Ryan. I had read a bit in the newspaper before the match about this young kid coming over from Dundee United who was supposed to be the new Messi. And from what I saw yesterday you can see he has got quality. Sporting did not have a special game. The pitch was not so big, so it is not so easy to play. They created just four chances but scored them all.
“Ryan did well. He’s young but when he has the ball he has a nice touch. He scored a fantastic goal. He was one of their best players on the day.”
Gauld’s Sporting B are currently 13th in the 24-team Portuguese second tier which also features the second strings of Benfica, Porto, Braga and Maritimo. He has also been registered in Sporting’s Champions League squad for the current season but has yet to be called upon for first-team action.
Sporting have always maintained they regard Gauld as a long-term project, having secured his services on a six-year contract which includes a 60 million Euros release clause. The 18-times Portuguese champions have now been linked with a possible January move for Gauld’s former Tannadice team-mate Stuart Armstrong.
“I was surprised when I heard Sporting had signed this young guy Gauld from Scotland because it is not normal for that to happen,” said Aguiar, a Scottish Cup winner with Hearts in 2006.
“But the club has people working around the world now looking for the best young players everywhere. Now I hear they may be looking at another player from Dundee United.”
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