Ryan Porteous: Scotland's master of the dark arts is silencing doubters and his talent should be celebrated
There would have been some who viewed him as a hatchet man rather than football player. Others lamented this young defender for being rash and too error-prone. Indeed, he didn’t help himself in some situations during his time at Easter Road but there was plenty of contrary evidence to demonstrate just how much potential and talent the centre-back had. Now look at him. A move to England where he has settled, impressed and played regularly. And then the international stage where he looks at home. Providing he continues his club form and stays free of injury, he simply cannot be dropped.
It only required a quick glance on social media during and after the win over Spain. If you could survive drowning in positivity, previous Porteous doubters were holding their hands up. Those who had watched and appreciated his talent were left, arms outstretched, saying ‘see, this is what we've been telling you about’. There are different facets to the 24-year-old's game which ensure he is an important asset whether you are playing Cyprus or Spain. As former Hibs team-mate Alex Gogic said after the Cyprus game: “He has pace, he can tackle and he can pass as well”.
Porteous is a front foot defender, he wants to engage, attack the ball and be aggressive. Everything any Scottish fan wants from their defender. Such an approach, especially when young, is of course going to lead to difficult moments. But he has expressed a maturity over the last 12 months or so and, for Scotland, he plays in a controlled manner, demonstrating an ever-improving decision making. With the ball, playing on the right of a back three suits him. He can step out or up and fire balls into the final third, breaking defensive lines. It is something he was so adept at with Hibs and it was seen early on when he found Ryan Christie behind the Spain midfield. He is one of the new generation of players who exerts composure and confidence in possession, someone fans can trust to take care of the ball. Like Aaron Hickey and Nathan Patterson and older than them, Callum McGregor and Kieran Tierney.
The dark arts master
Then there is another side to his game. There may be those purists who view it as cheating. Others just antics. Essentially gamesmanship. “You don’t want everyone in the side to be nice and friendly, especially not the defenders," Gogic said of Porteous. “You need them to have that nasty streak in them and he has that.” Scotland can be guilty of being naive on the international stage. Of not doing the darker arts of the game as well as opponents. Steve Clarke now has individuals who understand that side of the game. None more so than Porteous.
Take a moment in the 15th minute when Porteous recovered to win the ball from Mikel Oyarzabal – subbed at half-time after not getting any change out of the centre-back. He put his body in front of the Spanish forward, waited for contact, went down and won a free-kick. In the second half the Watford star made a recovery to put in a brilliant challenge to deny Yeremy Pino a very good challenge. One member of the press suggested Porteous looked badly hurt. It is hard to tell when he actually is or not because he ensures the referee has not missed the situation, buying time on the ground and taking the sting out of the game. Getting Iago Aspas booked towards the end of the game after winning a header, taking the contact and having a wee roll was his coup de grâce in another hugely positive outing for Scotland. Those situations may not be everyone’s taste but they are for this writer and it works and it is helpful in games where winning is the most important thing.
The victory over Spain was Steve Clarke's crowning night as Scotland boss, it was another staging post in the national team's evolution and for Porteous it was a coming of age performance on the international scene.
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