Explaining the immense potential of Ryan Porteous - for Hibs and Scotland

Hibs defender Ryan Porteous has recently made his return from long-term injury.
Hibs defender Ryan Porteous has recently made his return from long-term injury.
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The Scottish football psyche has been placed under the microscope once more in the wake of the national team's latest bout of blundering buffoonery.

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In trying to be like the Netherlands or Germany, have we drifted too far away from our previous identity? Are players being over-coached to the point where expression that portrays personality has been ground out of them? Through the work done by former SFA performance director Mark Wotte and others on behalf of the SFA, have we raised a generation of players who, while undeniably talented, don't have the mental bravery to face a challenge head on with the gallus attitude that defined the shining stars of past glories?

Everything about the Scotland team seems soft these days, nowhere more so than the defence. A nation that reared top class centre-backs for decades and decades now finds itself scrambling around to insert anyone into the position. It's arguably what hampers Steve Clarke and his managerial staff the most as they try to figure out the best remedy for a country's ills. Sure, a world class anomaly in the Gareth Bale, Dimitar Berbatov mould would be nice to lead the attack, but as Northern Ireland and Iceland have shown you don't need to have gifted geniuses in the final third to be successful at the international level. If you can keep the opponent from scoring then you've more chance of winning football games. Unfortunately, Scotland seem incapable of defending at the moment.

At times like this it's almost compulsory to look at the latest crop of youngsters coming through and hope things will get better in the future. The timing is therefore fitting that one hot prospect is expected to make his long-awaited return from injury just five days after the latest national disaster.

Ryan Porteous came through the under-21s victory over Croatia in midweek unscathed having played the full 90 minutes. As a result he's now in line to feature again in a Hibs strip this Saturday, whether it be in the starting XI or coming off the bench, for the first time competitively since suffering a knee injury playing through the pain against Motherwell way back in January.

Porteous is just one of a few centre-back prospects who could help Scotland discover a brighter future. There's Scott McKenna at Aberdeen and his £7 million price tag. There's John Souttar and Craig Halkett at Hearts, both of whom are under the age of 24. You can even include David Bates who, far from being the perfect footballer, still has a lot of growing to do as a 22-year-old. But none of these guys have either the cocksure attitude or the sheer blood-and-thunder ruthlessness of the Hibs defender.

This writer would like to make a personal admission at this point. Asked for an opinion on Porteous around this time last year and "overrated" would have been the response. Easter Road supporters loved the way he thundered into challenges with little consideration to his own personal safety or that of the opponent. If the ball was there to be won he was going to win it come hell or high water. Though admittedly entertaining to watch, it did often leave the centre-back prone to committing mistakes with greater frequency than his defensive partners who didn't attack every single duel with raw aggression. He was culpable of poor decision-making and lacking concentration. As a 19-year-old playing regularly for the first time this was always going to be expected. But it also meant those who called him the club's "best defender" were wide of the mark. Ergo, the "overrated" comment.

Having scrutinised the player further in researching for this article, there are aspects of Porteous' game which I'll admit to having been previously ignorant.

For a defender who is very much old school in his approach to halting an opponent, he possesses a few qualities which contrast with our typical image of such a player. Firstly, he's rather quick; not just for a centre-back, but for anyone on the pitch. He builds up a good head of steam in a sprint, but can also turn his hips with flexibility, which grants him speed of movement on the turn and means he's not susceptible to balls played over the top.

Secondly, he wears an exterior of calmness in possession. Is he the best footballing centre-back in the country? No, but he can pass accurately over short and long distances and, more importantly, is willing to be patient and wait for a team-mate to get into space to receive a pass. This is much preferable to booting it aimlessly in whatever direction he happens to be facing.

Beyond the simple eye test, the advanced statistics tell the story of a footballer with great potential. He was 14th in the league for interceptions and 19th for aerial duels per 90 minutes. He was also 8th for success rate on defensive duels and 20th for winning headers, while his long passing and overall passing accuracy had him just outside the top 30 (all stats according to Wyscout). Again, because it's worth reiterating, this was his first season playing regularly in the top flight of Scottish football.

When he left the Hibs squad to rehab his injured knee, he wasn't the best defender at the club in this writer's eyes. Now he might just be. The mistakes which gave caution to giving him such an accolade have been a regular feature of the experienced stoppers he shares a dressing room with, which is another reason why is return is a timely one.

Hibs need his confidence and his defensive skills more so now than at any point in his absence. They are sitting fourth from bottom in the league and are leaking goals left, right and centre. He could be a galvanising presence in the defence, despite his tender age. Furthermore, along with Scott Allan, he is the apple of the support's eye. Paul Heckingbottom will pick the team against Kilmarnock tomorrow how he sees fit, but if he's thinking at all about throwing Porteous back in then it wouldn't be the worst thing to do to curry favour with those fans who are already wanting to see the back of him.

For Porteous, the immediate goal will be to cement his place in the team. To do so he'll need to sharpen some of his rougher edges. He can be a little too reckless at times in his tackles and can be too eager to make them on occasion. Another of his attributes is his ability to use his deceptive body strength to ease attackers off the ball or unsettle their rhythm. There's a place for the blood-and-thunder and, given what we talked about earlier, we certainly don't want that to be coached out of him. He just needs to learn to pick his moments, but that will come with experience.

We must all hope Porteous reaches his greatest potential. Because, if he does, he has the capability of earning at least 50 caps for Scotland, and hopefully a place at a major international tournament one day.

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