The 20-year-old Scot, who moved to Portugal from Dundee United in a £3 million move in summer 2014, has been restricted to playing for Sporting’s B team since the last of his five first-team appearances 13 months ago.
Although he knew from the outset that regular status wouldn’t come instantly, the little midfielder, who clocked up almost 50 first-team appearances as a teenager at Tannadice, feels he is now getting little benefit from playing exclusively in the Portuguese second tier.
Having grown exasperated by his lack of first-team opportunities since Jorge Jesus replaced Marco Silva as manager last summer, Gauld asked to go out on loan in January. This request was declined by Sporting, who insist they still view him as a future first-team player and would rather he remained under their watch.
“I think my development has slowed down a little bit,” Gauld said. “It’s nearing the end of my second year in the B team. It’s not what I hoped for. I was hoping to go out on loan and play first-team games as that would accelerate my development again but Sporting said ‘no’. They still want me around the training ground and see me as a future first-team player. That is really positive so I need to trust their word.”
Gauld, who signed a six-year contract with Sporting, craves a change of fortunes next season. His representatives will speak to his club in the coming months to determine whether he is likely to get more first-team exposure. If not, they will again push for a loan move. “There isn’t long until the end of the season, so we will see what’s going to happen next season,” said Gauld. “The main thing is starting pre-season and trying to kick on and be a lot more involved with the A team. Hopefully in the summer, if I’m not going to be in the first team then they would be open to me going out on loan.”
Gauld, who played in a roving attacking role in his United days, has been reinvented as an all-action central midfielder in Lisbon. He played this position – the No 8 – for Scotland Under-21s in their defeat by France last week and the victory over Northern Ireland on Tuesday. Gauld believes he is now a more rounded footballer as a result of this tweak to his game.
“This season I’ve played No 8 in the B team as the A team play a 4-4-2. I wouldn’t say I’m capable of being a striker or one of the two up top so it was easy for me to change to No 8. I’ve played there a lot now and I suppose that’s good for my career as I can play two positions. I enjoy it, I may not get forward as much or get as many goals but I’m on the ball more.
“Instead of putting the finishes touches to a move, I’m starting moves and trying to get us further up the pitch. I’m also learning more about the defensive side of the game which is going to help me.”