Ryan Gauld and teenage Young Player award winners
The name on everybody’s lips in Scottish football right now is Ryan Gauld. Dundee United’s teenage sensation is growing into his “mini-Messi” tag with each and every passing week, and his four assist performance against Partick Thistle reportedly has England’s biggest clubs, including Manchester United and Arsenal ready to make a move for the diminutive and highly-regarded playmaker.
The 17-year-old was also linked with Spanish giants Real Madrid, with a representative from the Bernabeu watching Gauld earlier this season.
It’s a little too early to say for certain, but should United hold onto their prize asset for the remainder of the campaign then it seems inconceivable that he won’t pick up the Young Player of the Year award at the Footballer’s Association ceremony. If he does he’ll become only the eleventh teenager to win the award in Scottish football since its introduction in 1979.
Such individual success at a tender age indicates a tremendous career ahead, but football doesn’t always work out like that. Bad moves, worse managers, injuries or ill-advised decisions can always throw up unforeseen potholes that drive glittering careers off track. We look through the ten teenage winners of the award to date to see how their respective careers progressed.
Ray Stewart (19) – Dundee United, 1978-79
The young United defender with the crashing left-foot shot was the first ever recipient of the award and the subject of a stunning transfer switch the following summer. Second tier West Ham were not known for lavish spending, so when they paid £430,000 – a record for a teenager at the time – for Stewart everybody was stunned. After all, who was this kid? Any naysayers were proved wrong when Stewart went on to have a long and successful career with The Hammers, playing in arguably the club’s most successful period between 1979 and 1991. A victim of the era he played in, he only received ten caps for Scotland as Steve Nicol and Maurice Malpas occupied the left-back spot.
John MacDonald (19) – Rangers, 1979-80
The one silver lining in an otherwise terrible 79-80 season for Rangers was the play of MacDonald, the nippy wee striker who bagged nine goals before the campaign’s conclusion and offered a glimmer of hope for the future. MacDonald, to this day, remains the proof that diving, or at least the reputation of diving, in British football didn’t just arrived off the plane with the influx of foreign talent. Rangers fans didn’t care though, they were only concerned about his goal tally and the forward obliged with 77 over an eight year span at Ibrox, often playing back-up to other strikers at the club. MacDonald exited when the Graeme Sounness revolution began and played at Barnsley for three seasons before dropping down the leagues. Perhaps a victim of playing in some mediocre Rangers teams he never lived up to the early hype.
Charlie Nicolas (19) – Celtic, 1980-81
In 1981, Celtic snatched back the league title from Alex Ferguson’s Aberdeen and did so with great attacking flair, scoring 86 goals in 36 matches. One of the reasons for their prolificacy was the emergence of young Nicolas, who had all but captured the YPOTY award by the end of October after hitting a sensational 13 goals in his first 12 Celtic games. He won two titles in three seasons at Parkhead but, amid comparisons with George Best, it was clear his career was destined for a higher platform. Arsenal paid £800,000 for the 21-year old and expected big things from their new star man. However, as has often been stated, Nicolas became distracted by the bright lights of London and never realised his full potential. He returned to Scotland to play a supporting role on a good Aberdeen and average Celtic sides and retired with Clyde.
Paul McStay (19) – Celtic, 1982-83
The future Celtic icon played in every league match as the club were pipped to the finish line in the 1983 title race by one point. He would go on to achieve legendary status, playing 678 times for The Hoops over a 16-year career and winning three league titles. However, there are those outside of Parkhead who believe that he could have achieved much more in the game were it not for his unwavering loyalty to the club he loved. Certainly in the early 90s his experience and ability could have been valuable to any number of big clubs across Europe while Celtic slid into mediocrity amidst financial problems off the field. Instead, McStay stuck it out and played a supporting role on Tommy Burns’s rejuvenated side before retiring in 1997.
John Robertson (19) – Hearts, 1983-84
The step up from Division One to the Premier League didn’t faze the young Hearts striker who struck 15 league goals in the club’s first season back. His production dropped off the next year, but he averaged over 20 goals a season for the three following and Hearts reluctantly let him go to Newcastle United. The move didn’t work out for Robertson and he was back at Tynecastle to the delight of the doting Hearts support. He became the club’s all-time league goalscorer in 1997 and received 16 caps for Scotland at a time when Scotland were spoiled for choice in attack.
Charlie Miller (19) – Rangers, 1994-95
Perhaps the player on the list most deserving of the “unfulfilled potential” tag, Miller came through at Rangers and played an important squad player role for a club fighting for every domestic trophy available and seeking success on the continent. However, he never developed much beyond the ability displayed in his award winning season. Question marks surrounding his off-field discipline, illustrated by a continually inflated waistline, followed him around. He won eight trophies at Ibrox, was Dundee United’s star man for four seasons and is considered a hero with the Brann fans in Norway, but it’s still felt that he could have played at the highest level, such was his undoubted ability. His solitary cap for Scotland underlines the point.
Gary Naysmith (19) – Hearts, 1997-98
Shortly before his 19th birthday the full-back permanently displaced Neil Pointon, a reliable veteran, at the left-back position and helped launch Hearts into a title race as he and Neil McCann terrorised opponents down the wing. At the season’s conclusion, he demonstrated his defensive abilities to successfully hold off Rangers in the 1998 Cup Final win; proving that he was, indeed, a complete full-back. In 2000 he moved onto Everton and stayed seven years at Goodison. Despite all this, and his 46 caps for Scotland, he could have achieved more if it weren’t for a series of injury problems in the mid-noughties.
Kevin McNaughton (19) - Aberdeen, 2001-02
The versatile defender has enjoyed a steady if unspectacular career since his early recognition. A fan favourite with the supporters at both Aberdeen and Cardiff he has displayed great consistency and loyalty throughout his playing days. It’s a shame that, to date, he has never played a minute’s football in the English Premier League. A regular starter on all those heartbreakingly close Cardiff sides that continually came close to making the top flight, now that they’ve actually done it his advancing age and dwindling abilities mean he’s not longer a first team player. Suprisingly, he only picked up four caps for Scotland.
James McCarthy (18) – Hamilton, 2008-09
The youngest player to win the award at the time, the midfielder starred as a 16-year old in Hamilton’s First Division title winning campaign, even though his presence in Scotland’s elite heightened the controversy surrounding his decision to follow in the footsteps of Aiden McGeady by being the second born-and-bred Scotsman to turn down his homeland in favour playing for the Republic of Ireland. Booed at just about every opposing ground, McCarthy took it all in stride and was consistency excellent in his debut season as Hamilton easily avoided an immediate return back to the second tier. Made a £1.2million switch to Wigan at the conclusion of the campaign and after impressing in his four seasons in Lancashire he was snapped up by Everton for a fee of £13million this past pre-season.
Danny Wilson (18) – Rangers, 2009-10
Strangely enough, if Gauld does win the award it is highly likely that he won’t be the youngest player to have done so. That distinction belongs to current Hearts captain Danny Wilson. The centre back starred in the back end of Rangers 2010 title winning campaign and was 18 years and 128 days old when he scooped the prize (Gauld will be 11 days behind if the ceremony lands on the same date). Displaying a poise that defied his age, Wilson attracted the attention of Liverpool and made a £2million switch in the summer following his debut campaign after contract negotiations with Rangers broke down. Having failed to break into the first team at Anfield he then landed in Gorgie last season. At 21 he has many years ahead of him, but is yet to live up to that initial promise.