Ryan Gauld: Haggis crisps, pressure, 'incredible improvement' and the Vancouver Whitecaps presentation
In British Columbia at 6.30pm (BST) on Tuesday, three of Scotland’s finest exports sat next to perhaps the finest of them all, certainly when it comes to the scheming playmaker variety.
Ryan Gauld was finally unveiled by Vancouver Whitecaps.
Seven years on from making a thrilling £3million move to Portuguese giants Sporting as a teenager, here was the boy from Laurencekirk, presented in the sun to much fanfare, the Scottish spread laid on by the club for the local press.
Signed as a designated player, he joins the likes of Gonzalo Higuaín, Blaise Matuidi and a certain Johnny Russell to hold such stature in MLS.
It is a status which comes with a degree of pressure. The journalists in attendance talked of the expectation and the anticipation amongst fans.
Pressure and expectation is something Gauld has been dealing with ever since breaking through at Dundee United.
This once in a generation attacking talent. Technique, vision, creativity. Watching him provoked joie de vivre.
The growth of Gauld
However, that pressure weighed in Portugal as “low points” came, including difficult loan spells, one at Hibs.
Now, Gauld is much better placed to deal with anything which comes his way.
"I’ve made a move before when I was 18 years old," he said. “A lot of pressure came with it and I don’t think I dealt with it as well as I could have. I’ve grown since then.
“I had a couple of unsuccessful loan spells and had to pick myself up. I dropped down to the second division to get game time which was something I didn’t have for a couple of years.
"It really helped me grow in the sense of making me get my head down and realise I had to work even harder to get to where I wanted to get to, which was the level that I managed to play at last season.”
The season of his life
Last season was special.
Having helped Farense into the Portuguese top-flight, winning the LigaPro player of the year in the process, he shone in the Primeira Liga.
With nine goals and seven assists, he was one of only three players to finish in the top ten in both metrics. He ranked third for shots and first for shot assists. Nine player of the match awards, the most of any player.
The most eye-opening stat may well be a defensive one. Of 100 Primeira Liga midfielders and forwards, he ranked ninth for successful defensive actions per 90 minutes.
Come the summer there was interest from England, France, Germany, the Netherlands and Portugal. Big names were keen. None pursued him the way Vancouver did.
Rewind to November and Caps manager Marc Dos Santos was being urged to check out Gauld’s progression.
Unsure, Dos Santos relented and watched him in action against Braga.
Come January, Vancouver started working on the deal.
Dos Santos said: “I never had a doubt on the technical ability, he’s a player who has great vision, great first touch, looks for the last pass, very good delivery on set plays. But the doubt I had was in the moments where the team or Ryan lost the ball.
"There's been an incredible improvement on that. I told the scout I don't want to waste time on that but the scout said ‘no, you have to go watch it!’.
"There was a huge change in the intensity of his game, I was very surprised by it and I went back to see other games."
There were eyebrows raised in Scotland regarding the move to MLS, especially with a national team ambition having missed out on the Euro 2020 squad.
Former United colleague Russell was used as a sounding board, as well Bruno Gaspar, on loan at Whitecaps from Sporting.
“There are quite a few people I know over here who all say great things about the league,” he said.
“I think there is a little bit of a perception back in the UK that it is not a great league but when you watch the games, they are high intensity and there is a lot of quality.
"I’m well aware of how much and how rapidly the league is growing and I was very eager to be a part of that.”
The 'right decision’
Gauld isn't being brought in to be “the guy” or the “saviour”, according to Dos Santos. Instead, brought in to make the collective better.
“Very excited” director of football Axel Schuster hopes the player will help the club “make the next step".
It was a deal which took time, but nothing to do with money.
“An offer, a counter and a new offer from us”, said Schuster. Three emails. Negotiations were smooth. Everything else wasn't.
Farense dug their heels in over a contract issue and made it awkward. Then in Faro he wasn't allowed on a flight due to Covid-19 reasons. He had to hot foot it to Lisbon to get on another flight the following day.
"Coming out here, it seemed like every obstacle that could be put in my way, happened," Gauld said. “It was a tough couple of weeks.
“Since I’ve arrived, I’ve 100 per cent made the right decision. Everything that the club has got and the potential.
"I’ve never been one to make my decisions based on money. There is more to a career and more to life than money. The Whitecaps were the first club to reach out to me and make it known how much I was wanted; what they thought I could bring to the club.
"This is where I felt I could really progress.”
He added: “Whenever I play I leave everything I can on the pitch and hopefully my creative side can create opportunities and score some goals.
"Most importantly, the way my game has come on in the last couple of years in my work rate, my intensity, I will be looking to bring that in as quickly as possible.”
A message from the Editor:
Thank you for reading this article. We're more reliant on your support than ever as the shift in consumer habits brought about by Coronavirus impacts our advertisers.
If you haven't already, please consider supporting our trusted, fact-checked journalism by taking out a digital subscription.
Want to join the conversation? Please or to comment on this article.