'Dundee didn't want me back' - Lyall Cameron on Gordon Strachan influence and deciding to start a degree

PFA Scotland Young Player of the Year nominee is now regarded as one of Scottish football’s hottest properties

Lyall Cameron has so forcefully pushed back against the notion that physicality trumps skill and style that it has surely only helped improve the midfielder’s muscle definition.

Strength isn’t so much the issue as lack of inches and even that hasn’t notably held back his progress, with the Dundee midfielder named as one of four PFA Scotland Young Player of the Year nominees in his maiden top-flight season.

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Cameron has struck a blow for the pint-sized footballer. He’s also flying the flag for those players blessed with intellect. The quick thinking that led to his long-range strike in March against St Johnstone, one of five league goals he has scored this season, is proof of this – as is the university degree he has been combining with a football career that is on the up and up despite doubts about his size.

Lyall Cameron in action for Dundee against Aberdeen in January. He is now regarded as one of Scottish football's hottest properties (Photo by Alan Harvey / SNS Group)Lyall Cameron in action for Dundee against Aberdeen in January. He is now regarded as one of Scottish football's hottest properties (Photo by Alan Harvey / SNS Group)
Lyall Cameron in action for Dundee against Aberdeen in January. He is now regarded as one of Scottish football's hottest properties (Photo by Alan Harvey / SNS Group)

There are many examples of those who disprove the argument about needing to be big and brawny to progress. “One that comes into my head straightaway is Antoine Griezmann,” said Cameron, following his nomination. “Obviously he has still done a lot better than me in football, right enough. He was told at an early age that he was too small as well. I think it is always going to be a thing, isn’t it? People see your physicality side and automatically it is a cross against your name.”

He is at the right club given Gordon Strachan, Dundee’s technical director, overcame the size challenge to become one of the best players this country has ever produced. Indeed, he was named the Scottish Football Writers’ Player of the Year in 1980. Although he had started his career at Dens Park, Strachan was at Aberdeen by the time he was recognised by the football writers.

If Cameron wins the award outright – the result is announced at a dinner in Glasgow on Sunday night – he will become the first Dundee player to lift such a personal national title since Zurab Khizanishvili won the same trophy in 2003. Ian Ure was the last and so far only Dundee footballer of the year in 1962.

It’s already been quite a season at Dens Park and some turnaround in the life of the 21-year-old Cameron, for whom there seemed little prospect of such personal accolades when he was left on the bench while on loan at Peterhead towards the end of 2021. It seemed bleak enough to convince him to start studying for a maths and economics degree with the Open University.

“I was just not getting a game at Peterhead,” he said. “And that is not easy as a young player from Dundee. I was travelling up to Peterhead and I have always been quite confident in my ability and felt like I should have been playing and I wasn’t. I had a limbo period between the seasons – Dundee didn’t want me back and Peterhead didn’t want me.”

He did have a successful spell on loan at Montrose but there were ructions at his parent club, where James McPake – who handed Cameron his senior debut – was sacked in a bid to steer the club away from a quick return to the Championship. One of Cameron’s mentors was gone but fortunately Strachan remained. Gary Bowyer, perhaps encouraged by Strachan, began to put his faith in Cameron. “He (Strachan) is the one that has always believed in me and pushed for me to get games at Dundee so him being at Dundee and being a big figure there has been really important. I might not have been here without him to be honest.

It was the start of everything falling into place. “I still had a year left on my deal and then we got relegated to the Championship,” Cameron recalled. “I thought, ‘it is now or never really’. I went out there and performed well and worked hard and that has got me to where I am now.”

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He became the first Dundee player to win all three club player of the year awards despite only breaking into the starting XI in the Autumn. So what became of his studies? “I still do that to this day because I believed it helped me going into that season and I am quite superstitious,” he said. “It is a totally different thing to focus on at times. I never get too caught up in football, I never get too high if I have a good game or too low if I have a bad game. It takes you away from it and makes you focus on something else and you can go into the next game with a clear head.”

The numbers are currently looking quite good for Dundee, who play St Mirren in a crucial top six clash this weekend as both clubs vie for fifth place and the European spot that comes with it. Cameron was only one when Dundee last experienced such rarefied heights in 2003.

There are many exciting possibilities for the youngster, who has also scored two goals in four matches to help Scotland Under-21s to second place in their European Championship qualifying group behind Spain. Cameron has just a year left on his contract and was being linked with Hearts 12 months ago before signing a new two-year deal.

He will undoubtedly be the subject of considerable interest this summer, particularly if he is the reigning young player of the year a decade after current Scotland skipper Andy Robertson won the award while at Dundee United. Cameron is up against Motherwell’s Lennon Miller, Kilmarnock’s David Watson and Ross McCausland of Rangers.

"Honestly I don’t have a clue what is going to happen over the summer," said Cameron, when talk turns to his future. "I just want to have focus on these next four games and if something comes up it comes up. I just need to wait and see."

There is the attraction of the return of the Dundee derby to the Scottish top flight next season, something Cameron has yet to sample at first-team level. He was once on the books of Dundee United but left to try his luck across the road after being played out of position. He may even have been told he was too small.



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