Darren McGregor says Hibs’ academy graduate Ryan Porteous is “light years” ahead of where he was when he was 19 as he extolled the virtues of the emerging batch of Scottish centre-backs.
The 33-year-old has been sidelined for the past month with a knee injury but has watched on as Porteous has impressed in his absence. The 19-year-old is currently on Scotland Under-21 duty after starting nine of Hibs’ 11 competitive matches this term, in what has become his most consistent run in the team since breaking into Neil Lennon’s plans at the start of last season.
McGregor believes Porteous has all the attributes to become a top-class centre-back and said that his young colleague is significantly further on in in his development than he was at the same age. McGregor at 19 was in his first spell with Cowdenbeath and about to drop into the Junior ranks with Arniston Rangers before eventually getting his chance in full-time football when St Mirren signed him from Cowdenbeath shortly before he turned 25.
“Ryan’s acquitted himself magnificently since he came in which has made my job easier, albeit I don’t want him to be doing too well because I won’t get back in,” he said.
“Seriously, he deserves his spot – he is light years in front of where I was at his age and he will progress and get even better. I’m delighted for him. He has got everything – he’s good on the ball, aggressive, wins his aerial challenges and he talks, which is very uncommon in someone of his age on the pitch. He’s very humble, too, in and around the place, very respectful and he works hard. I’ve no doubt he’ll be a star the older he gets. In Scotland you see defenders who are good on the ball but lack aggression or others – like me – who are aggressive but lack a bit of ability. When you’ve got both together you’re on to a winner and Ryan boasts both those assets.
“He has been capped with Scotland at his age levels and captained the under-19s and that shows he has a bit about him.”
McGregorsees Porteous as one of a highly-rated batch of ball-playing young Scottish centre-backs, alongside Aberdeen’s Scott McKenna, Celtic’s Jack Hendry and Hearts’ John Souttar, who can fill a problem position for the national team for years to come.
“I like them all, I think they are all a great size, they have stature, they’re aggressive and good on the ball,” said McGregor. “In years gone by we have been screaming out for defenders. Now we have three or four coming through at the same time.”
McGregor, who hopes to be fit for Hibs’ next match at home to Kilmarnock on Saturday week, was delighted to see another ball-playing centre-back remain at Easter Road after Efe Ambrose’s possible transfer-deadline day move to Turkey failed to materialise.
“It was really important to keep Efe,” said McGregor. “Like everybody else, I only found out there was a potential for him to leave when I read it in the media on Friday but I’m delighted that a player of his calibre stayed with us because he’s an internationalist with great experience. You know what you’re going to get with Efe – sometimes he can leave you on tenterhooks but he’s a massive plus for us with his composure on the ball and his experience. As a defender he can play and he can get you out of tight situations.
“Some people just focus on his mistakes but he’s a very good player. He’s sometimes the architect of his own mistakes because he constantly wants to go out with the ball and run and break the lines, but it’s an asset to have a defender who’s willing to get on the ball and take risks.
“I’d definitely rather have him than not have him. He’s a quality defender. He’s athletic, he’s good in the air and he’s powerful so he ticks all the boxes. We need all the experience and leadership we can get and he obviously adds to that.”