Hibs recruit Ryan Gauld on his struggles with '˜Mini Messi' hype

There was so much hype as Ryan Gauld burst on to the Scottish football scene and when he swapped Tannadice for Sporting Lisbon in a '¨Â£3 million, six-year deal, pundits saw it as a significant step for the teenage starlet who '¨had already been christened Mini Messi.

Ryan Gauld is expected to make his Hibs debut in Saturday's Scottish Cup tie against Elgin. Picture: Bruce White/SNS
Ryan Gauld is expected to make his Hibs debut in Saturday's Scottish Cup tie against Elgin. Picture: Bruce White/SNS

But after a promising start, a change of manager and several loan spells saw the creative midfielder step into the shadows. But buoyed by the lessons learned, he has returned to the SPFL with some catching up to do and hoping for some eye-catching performances to catapult him back into the national consciousness and into the thoughts of the national boss.

Former Dundee United team-mates and friends, like Andy Robertson, Stuart Armstrong and John Souttar, have already made the Scotland breakthrough and while the task of emulating them is not foremost in his mind, the 23-year-old who earned a call up in 2014 but has been overlooked since, revealed it did play a role in him joining Hibernian in a loan deal until the end of the season.

“I felt like my profile had gone down a bit in the last couple of years,” said Gauld. “But that’s something that 
the Scottish Premiership can give you. If you look at the last couple of Scotland squads, there has been a lot of guys from the SPFL in the squad. I’m not giving too much thought to it just now. My main thoughts are on getting my head down, working hard, playing. But, if the opportunity did come back along, I would be really grateful.”

Having departed these shores in 2014 in a deal that included a £50m buyout clause and emphasised the promise he possessed, he admits he had difficulty dealing with the early hype but accepting that there will be a residual degree of expectation, he says he is determined to put that to the back of his mind and help Hibs move up the league table and the latter stages of the Scottish Cup.

“It’s still there. It was made difficult from day one. When I would go out for a coffee, sitting in a shopping centre, nobody would even know my name – but they’d be saying: ‘Mini Messi, Mini Messi …’ That kind of stuff isn’t nice. I didn’t enjoy it.

“I had a sharp rise because of a good young team at United,
then signing for Sporting. And that brought huge expectations. But I knew it wasn’t going to be quite the way everyone expected. I kept my feet on the ground and worked as hard as possible, to hopefully provide myself with the best career possible.

“I’ve seen quite a few Hibs games this season and they’ve been playing well, just not getting the points they deserve. But hopefully I can help to 
provide a bit of creativity and push Hibs up the league.”

The initial goal is to help the Leith side, whose two-month chase to sign him up has bolstered his confidence, through today’s tie against League Two Elgin City and into the next round of the Scottish Cup.

But recent experience has taught him not to underestimate any opposition. On loan to Desportivo Aves last season, he helped them win the Portuguese Cup but he says they almost came unstuck against a side from a lower tier.

“[Winning the cup] was a great experience. There were a couple of games where no one gave us a chance and there was one game as well when we were 3-1 down with two minutes left and we managed to draw and take it to extra-time and then win on pens. I scored the first pen. Then in the semi finals we were playing a third division team and everyone expected us to walk all over them but it went to extra-time in the second leg before we managed to score two goals.

“It is such a huge game for lower league teams if they are playing a Premiership team. They are going to give it everything so we need to do the same. We need to be as physical as them, as hard working and we need to treat it like we would a regular league game.”