Interview: Kris Boyd’s eye for goal hasn’t changed

Boyd has scored 186 top-flight goals since his senior career began in 2001. Picture: SNS
Boyd has scored 186 top-flight goals since his senior career began in 2001. Picture: SNS
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KRIS Boyd is in the process of moving house and on a never-ending round of packing boxes. “Oh, the joys,” says the Kilmarnock striker. The real glee for the 30-year-old, meanwhile, is that this season it has become necessary to think outside the box when assessing what Boyd does inside it.

No longer does the word “only” prefix his God-given gift for scoring goals. It’s probably the first time in a career wherein two spells at Rugby Park have sandwiched his becoming a cause célèbre at Rangers, and learning life lessons during lean times in England, Turkey and America.

Boyd’s net-bulging contributions now demand to be classified without caveats. It could be no other way when a faintly remarkable 19 league strikes for a struggling Kilmarnock this season – a total bettered only by Kris Commons – has allowed him to overtake such storied figures as Lawrie Reilly, Henrik Larsson, Willie Bauld and Stevie Chalmers and nestle in seventh place in the list of post-war Scottish top-flight goalscorers.

His 186 tally puts him within touching distance of a couple of more stellar scorers, but the 260 figure that places Ally McCoist out on his own might seem beyond Boyd when the player is in the autumn of his career. Yet in experiencing a season in the sun that seems certain to allow him to break the 20-goal threshold for the fifth time across eight campaigns, he is ruling nothing out. You can’t when it comes to Boyd and goals.

“When you look back at Ally McCoist’s career, the younger me would have bitten your hand off to be anywhere near the top ten,” he says. “I feel now that I have a chance to push on and I hope I can get close to him. Obviously a big chunk of my career has been at Rangers, but I’ve also played a long time with Kilmarnock and to get toward the top of that list with a lesser team, I take great pleasure in that. There is a long way to go, but we’ll see.

“Just to be mentioned next to so many great players is something. I don’t see myself in that category in terms of ability or whatever, but what I will do is keep going back for more if I miss.

“To even be on the list I owe a massive debt to the players I’ve played with. I’ll get myself into the positions to score goals, but the ball needs to find you. It’s as simple as that. Apart from Henrik Larsson who could create a goal out of nothing, the ones I know on the list have depended on team-mates.

“For me, I’m just happy to be back home and scoring. There is no better place to do that than in Scotland because it is where I was born and where I made my mark. Of course you want to test yourself elsewhere, but I take more pride in scoring goals in my own country than I do anywhere else. I just wish this season my goals had helped us get more wins because I don’t want to score so many only for us to be in a relegation battle. I’d rather we had far more wins than that.”

Boyd seems to have little interest in the reappraisal of his prodigious goalscoring talents based on a greater industry and team ethic that has seemed evident in his play this season. He has a healthy circumspection for the garlands and the goading that accompany his accomplishments.

“People will say what they want to say and none of that will change what I do in a game, in training, or off the field,” he adds. “They will throw out opinions and nine times out of ten, these will be negative because that’s what sells. I more than anyone was caught up in that for a long time. I know if I’m fit and apply myself properly, come a game on a Saturday I will be a handful for the majority of defences I play against. Over the years, because of the amount of goals I’ve scored, other things get lost. But if you look into it there will be a few assists as well. Ultimately, though, goals win games and are the hardest part to deliver.

“When people now start saying ‘he’s doing this, he’s doing that’ it just grows arms and legs – exactly the same as the negative take. I’m not going to sit here, get carried away and say my whole game’s changed. Scoring goals has been with me my whole career and it’s not going to leave me now. I need to keep myself in a condition to play 90 minutes, be able to score any time within the 90 minutes, to be running about for 90 minutes, and I have done that this season, which has been a massive boost after where I’ve been the last couple of years.”

A love of Rangers, the club he grew up supporting, will never leave him either. In 2010, he left them. This week, though, the Ibrox side’s manager McCoist gave the response of “I hope so” to the question of whether he would be looking to re-sign Boyd in the summer. In so doing, he heightened expectations that, as the financially-challenged club prepare to pitch for the Premiership, Boyd’s separation from his boyhood club might be short-lived.

“I don’t know what’s round the corner and I can’t take anything for granted. I don’t know if Rangers are in a position to sign players. The big thing is that Rangers need to get themselves sorted out. That is what is most important for Scottish football. They need to get back to the top flight, back to winning trophies and help Scottish football point in the right direction, instead of the whole negativity that has surrounded the game because of the Rangers situation for the past three or four years.”

To chat with Boyd is to be struck by the truth in the adages that travel broadens the mind and age brings its wisdom. Now a regular pundit on radio and television, here was a man who in his mid-20s was notorious for being surly and uncommunicative. Even now back in his spiritual home, in Boyd taking himself out of Ayrshire, some of the Ayrshire characteristics seemed to be taken out of Boyd.

He says he would advise all young footballers “not to toss off school early and make sure they commit fully to their education” because of the drop-out rate in football. He relishes coaching Kilmarnock’s under-17s, will sit his A-licence coaching assessment in the summer, and hopes he can give kids “help to make them better people” as well as better footballers. “Listening and being like a sponge” is paramount for youngsters who want to develop their abilities to their full potential, he believes. Oh, and he has arrived at the opinion that learning languages ought to be embraced by far more of this nation. “I would sit in the dressing room in Turkey and players would be speaking three or four different languages when I was barely able to speak English, and that makes you feel thick,” he says.

It wasn’t just on multilingualism that “the penny dropped” during his unproductive six months with Eskisehirspor, where he played only 67 minutes and had to sue to recoup the more than £2 million in contracted salary unlawfully withheld from him. “I witnessed a lot of poverty in Turkey and saw young Turkish players struggling to get paid, struggling with their mortgages. It almost became part of their culture. In any other line of work, if folk didn’t get paid they would walk off the job. But these guys don’t know, the mentality is that they just get on with it. But they didn’t cope well and it affected their football. UEFA are taking huge strides to stamp this out but it’s going to take a long, long time to get rid of it. To see that was part of me learning much more in the last few years about how to appreciate life.”

The move to America to join Portland Timbers, which also proved a struggle, taught him to appreciate the spoken word, meanwhile. “There would be sponsors’ events at the end of the season and while here that would mean you going up and saying a quick thank you, there they launched into a five-minute spiel. That taught me about media communications, and though the football didn’t go well when I was away from Scotland, I loved every minute of experiencing different cultures. I have taken all of it on board.

“Could I have done things differently? Obviously everyone can. For me it has been a learning curve. Would I be sitting here the person I am? I doubt it. Would I sit here with the knowledge I have? I doubt it. My career might be coming to an end in terms of playing but I feel that I have a whole new career in front of me, whether that is management or the media. What I might have sacrificed football-wise, I’ve learned in the other side of it. For every negative there is a positive when I think about the past two or three years.”

Boyd sees no contradiction in now having a media career when he once seemed so distrusting of the medium – for which he makes no apologies. “I love the game, I love football, it is all I have ever known and anyone will tell you it is all I ever talk about. My missus will certainly say that I’m pretty boring unless I am getting into a football conversation. Being involved in the radio or the TV, it is my opinion, it is what I think. I was wary when I was at Rangers of doing that, because it ends up getting exaggerated and whatever you actually said gets lost. It has maybe changed a wee bit now. But it used to be when you go into a press conference at Rangers or Celtic, the headline had probably been made and for certain journalists it was just how you get the guy to say the words that fitted into that.

“So much of the time at Rangers I couldn’t be bothered with a lot of the people that were trying to talk about me because half of it was just sh***. They would rabbit on and on and be quick to jump on how I couldn’t do this, or couldn’t do that. How did they not come in and show me how do these things?”

Boyd certainly made his mark at Rangers but his experiences at the club also marked him out in an unflattering way. It is astonishing that in 2005-06, he moved to Ibrox in January and scored 20 goals in half a season at the club after netting 17 times at Kilmarnock. He also scored twice on his Scotland debut and yet the 39-goal haul earned him no player of the year accolades. Then, under Walter Smith, he became the player that did not play in derbies or European games; the flat-track bully.

“I can look back on my Rangers career and, whatever is said, as a youngster you set out to win the three major trophies in Scotland. I did that. I represented my country and scored goals [seven in 18 games]. The manager had big decisions to make but I feel that by the end of my Rangers career I had turned the corner in terms of getting myself involved in the bigger games. You want to play in them but when we went with one up front Kenny [Miller] was better than me in that role. That was successful, and took us to a European final.

“I can’t sit here and question Walter because the results prove he was right. He was a fantastic manager, unbelievable for Rangers and I take something from the fact that he didn’t just say you were dropped, he would pull you in and give you his reasons for that. He didn’t need to do it, but the fact he did makes him the man he is and he showed he can manage football clubs.

“He knew he could leave me out on the Wednesday and then come the Saturday, I would be there to score goals again. There was never any bitterness from me. Was I happy at the time not playing? No. He wouldn’t expect you to be, but the most important thing was I was always ready to perform for Rangers. The league games are your bread and butter, and win you the major trophies, and I played in the majority of those.”

An element to Boyd failing to be universally appreciated was perhaps his decision to refuse to make himself available for Scotland under George Burley. He rescinded that decision, was capped under Craig Levein, and appeared in a Strachan squad this season. “Do I look back and regret it? I don’t think you do look back with regrets. I look back and say I could have handled it better. Again it was another experience, another tough decision I had to make but at the time I was finding myself out of the Rangers team, and not scoring goals. At that time, other players were coming in to play ahead of me.

“I had to go back to basics and get myself involved there rather than going away for ten days with Scotland, not playing, and finding myself out of contention for my club. I did get back in at Rangers and have been fortunate to get myself back into another Scotland squad. I’m not going to sit here and say I should be a Scotland regular because there are players doing really well in England, which is a tougher stage than here. But Gordon Strachan knows what I can do. And if it comes down to goalscoring I can be a match for anyone.”

Boyd has a record, and a ranking, to prove that.