Wednesday, 11 December 2013

Ryan Gauld - The Boy With The World At His Feet?

Seasoned moaners on both sides of the border will tell anyone who listens that Britain doesn't produce enough technically gifted players. They will then go on to say that when we do produce such a rare gem we do not know how to nurture or care for the individual.

The names ''Gascoigne', 'Cole', 'Scholes' and 'Le Tissier' are carved forever into the hearts of English football fans. We should have got more from them. We should have built our team around them.

The Celtic nations reminisce over the days when they did produce technically gifted gems. Scots wonder if the end of the tanner ba' players really is linked to the disappearance of the tanner ba'.

Scotland used to produce such talent consistently that in their most celebrated victory - the 1967 win over the then World Champions England - they could survive without picking players as gifted as Dave Mackay, Ian St John, Alex Young, Alan Gilzean, Bobby Murdoch, and Jimmy Johnstone. What would Scotland do now for a player as good as Alex Young or Bobby Murdoch?

I am, I will concede, a seasoned moaner in this regard. But the beauty of a  half-empty pint is that it is also a half-full one. There are reasons to be cheerful. The doom and gloom that is prevalent in the newspapers, in the bar-rooms and in the snugs about the next generation fails to notice the young talents these islands are producing.

I won't focus on the sort of solid oak players the Home Nations churn out with fair regularity. Phil Jones, Jonny Evans, Martin Kelly and the like are fine players but could have been produced by any of the Home Nations at any point since Herbert Chapman's day.

Fine as they are the focus should be on the sorts of players we are routinely told do not exist or, that when they do, we look at them like a teenager looks at a pornographic magazine - a basic understanding of what we see but no real comprehension.

Wales, over the years, has produced some superb players. It has rarely had a trio of players as gifted as Bale, Ramsey and - lagging behind those two a little at present - Allen playing at the same time.

For all the gnashing of teeth about England's future - and there are worries about certain positions going forward (most obviously in central defence where we have traditionally been strongest) - the Three Lions have, within their younger ranks, talents such as Luke Shaw, Raheem Sterline, Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain, Ravel Morrison, Ross Barkley, Wilfried Zaha, and Jack Wilshere. Each of those is 21 or younger. Andros Townsend is 22.

That doesn't include the likes of James Ward-Prowse, Will Hughes, Nathaniel Chalobah, Izzy Brown, Jordon Ibe, Saido Berahino, Tom Ince, or Josh McEachran. Nor does it cover older players like Lallana, Sturridge, Walcott, Rooney et al.

I'm unaware of any real burgeoning talents from Northern Ireland - and would be interested to hear more in the comments - but what of Scotland?

A few years ago - when I started this blog - John Fleck was the next big thing in Scottish football. He was, allegedly, the Rooney of the Central Belt. Fleck is only 22 and he is now plying his trade for Coventry City but there was a hope, for a time, that he would be a huge presence in Scottish football. That hasn't happened.

Preceding him, Robert Snodgrass, now of Norwich, turned down a trial with Barcelona. Steven Fletcher, increasingly the harbinger of doom for Premier League teams, was watched as a younger man by Real Madrid.
Islam Feruz - who has been the next great hope for Scottish football for years now - is still only 18 and, apparently, developing nicely at Chelsea. Few youngsters progress from the Chelsea youth team to the Chelsea first team without a loan spell at some point and it will be interesting to see if Feruz is loaned out in due course.

And now we get to the current boy wonder, the next big thing, the saviour of Scottish football and all that jazz: Ryan Gauld of Dundee United. This 17-year-old dazzler has scouts from all over Europe flocking to Tannadice to look at him. He looks a fine player and the telling thing is that those who watch him don't focus on the flicks and tricks or the silks and skills but rather the brain. That brain on the pitch is one thing. From everything I've read he is just as astute off the pitch - noting that if he does move he'd prefer to move overseas than to England. His manager notes his awareness is astonishing. That's what sets him apart. How often do you read of a 17-year-old footballer, the next big thing, and read about his vision and awareness?

A couple of days ago I talked about David Moyes' impossible choice. Gauld will be asked to make his own. That, admittedly, is delayed for some time given his signing of a deal with Dundee United until 2016 but it is unlikely he'll see out his contract with United.

So what is his choice? He'll gain experience with Dundee United but, in due course, when the move comes it is likely he'll be faced with three options.

The first - given the buzz around him - is the most unlikely. The tried and test method in Scotland of moving to Celtic or, even in this day and age as David Templeton showed us, to Rangers. The positives are clear - a bigger club, better coaching, playing alongside international players and European football. One cruel wag on Twitter suggested that he could move to Celtic then have his pick of Norwich, Birmingham City and Cardiff. History shows us that players who move to Celtic from a smaller club (either from Scotland or elsewhere) can shine (Wanyama, Izaguirre etc) whilst others can whither on the vine (Riordan, Flood).

The second option - and, at this time, more likely - is a move to England. Some will say that a young talent won't get game time. They'll point to Danny Wilson, David Goodwillie and Liam Miller. Sometimes that is the case. But as Barkley, Sterling, Wilshere and co show is that the biggest Premier League teams will consistently play young players if they are good enough. It seems that Wilson, Miller, and Goodwillie simply weren't good enough.

Then, finally, is Gauld's preferred option and one which we should all support: a move overseas.

As a small player - he is even smaller than Messi - and as a highly skilled one it is understandable that the Italian or Spanish leagues would be preferable. I've lamented for many years that not enough British players go abroad and it would be pleasing to see Gauld fulfil his potential and ambition in foreign climbs. There are upsides - different cultures, high-level playing colleagues - and there are challenges. Some will note that the problems of moving to big clubs may be even more obviously manifested when moving abroad. If the opportunity is there he should take it with both hands. It is better to have tried and failed, after all.

Gauld is a fine player. He is apparently Scotland's finest young player. It is in all of our interests that he makes the right choice. The one that makes the most of his talent and the one that makes sure Scotland gets the best he can be.

A devil's choice - there will always be an example of where a similar person failed. There will be voices in the lughole saying ''go this way. You'll succeed at Celtic. Would even start for Real Madrid?''. There's a reason that Snodgrass doesn't like being asked about Barcelona. Aim for the sky. It's a defining reminder of what could have been. A parallel universe that is better than this one. We should all hope Ryan Gauld backs himself and aims for the sky rather than the ceiling.

Scotland may not have a Belgian golden generation but if Gauld and Feruz meet their potential we might look forward to watching the games rather than glimpsing at the screen from behind our hands.



dearieme said...


dearieme said...

Hmmm, perhaps not. He could join Chelsea and play for Everton?