Dundee United’s diminutive attacking midfielder Ryan Gauld has attracted interest from some of the biggest clubs in world football. Real Madrid, Barcelona, Roma, Manchester United, Liverpool, and Arsenal have all been linked with the 18-year-old, and any club with a half decent scouting network will no doubt be monitoring him, such is the hype he’s generated during the last year.
Background – The Dundee United School
The young Scot has impressed from an early age, with his former coach at Brechin City Boys’ Club, Jack Souttar, commenting:
Ryan had fantastic ability, even as a very young boy. I remember doing an exercise where the aim was to drop the ball and kill it dead on your foot.
It was a difficult exercise for younger kids, but straight away Ryan did it with ease and then followed up with over 50 keepy-uppies… and counting.
Soon, he’d beaten my own record – and he was just seven years old. In the end, I let him show the other kids what to do. Ryan was, and still is, an outstanding player, but a great lad too from a terrific family.
Souttar’s son John played alongside Gauld in the Brechin youth side, and now the pair play together again in the Dundee United first team. It’s only a matter of time before the young defender Souttar is called up to the Scottish the national team, and the same must surely be said for Gauld.
The young duo aren’t the only young Scots to be impressing at Dundee United, as left back Andy Robertson recently won the PFA Scotland Young Player of the Year award for 2013/14, with midfielder Stu Armstrong also in the running along with Gauld. Robertson is Dundee United’s stand-out player this season, and already has a cap for the senior Scotland side, drawing praise from manager Gordan Strachan.
Andy came on there and the first time he picked it up he drove about 30 yards.
I thought ‘that’s fantastic. Absolutely no grey area, I’m going to do what I do. I loved seeing that first touch.
Gauld is still seen as the jewel in the crown of United’s youngsters, and has attracted much more mainstream media interest than his team-mates, including an inclusion on the prestigious list of young players to look out for in 2014 compiled by the In Bed With Maradona website.
He hails from the village of Laurencekirk, which lies on the east coast of Scotland between Aberdeen and Dundee.
Gauld told the Guardian of his football upbringing in the small village which has a population of just 3600.
We just phoned everybody after school to try and get as many as we could for a game.
Sometimes there would only be three or four, sometimes there would be 10. We just set up the pitch at the park and enjoyed ourselves.
Style and Substance
This Scottish version of Futsal will have helped his development as a player, enhancing the skills required to play in small spaces, and making threading through balls through to strikers on a full size pitch seem easy!
Former Dundee United youth coach Ian Cathro, now coaching in Portugal with Rio Ave, was a great mentor to Gauld when it came to the creative side of his game. The youngster spoke of the advice his coach gave him, in the same Guardian interview.
He was always saying that you need to see not just the pass that you are going to play but when that person receives the ball what they can do with it, so thinking of the second and the third pass.
A lot of nights of the week we would just work on awareness, just knowing what was around you. It’s all about making life easier for your team-mate.
Historically the Scottish game is all about passing; seeing the space and finding a better placed team-mate, and Gauld is very much in this mould. He also has other attributes which are heavily influenced by his small frame and low centre of gravity.
Standing at just 5ft 5in (168cm) he can scurry around the pitch in the manner of the great diminutive players of our day, boasting a high work rate and an ability to close players down high up the pitch. Combine this with his passing ability, creativity, and movement, and you begin to see why he’s interesting the likes of Barcelona, Arsenal, and Liverpool – teams whose philosophies are built around this attribute set.
As shown in this graphic from Transfermarkt, he can play in the majority of midfield and attacking positions. An inverted winger, number 10, left winger on his natural side, or even a false 9 or number 8; the modern day player needs to be adaptable, and his natural ability on the ball means he has the versatility to play in a more continental system.
We’ve come this far without mentioning the over-the-top Messi comparisons, but as a small left footed player with an eye for a pass and an ability to dribble there will be one or two similarities. However, to thrust this comparison on any young player is lazy and often inaccurate, as is the case with Gauld whose goal scoring record is nowhere near that of the Argentine. The Scotland u21 international had this to say about the comparisons:
Messi is a player I look up to because he’s the best in the world.
Every young boy should be watching him and trying to emulate him in training. Don’t be an ordinary person, go and try something special.
The words show an ambition and professionalism which should serve him well. Taking pressure and expectation in his stride will be important as his career progresses, and he could also learn from the many Scottish wonderkids of years gone by, who are now relatively unknown.
In terms of weaknesses, lack of strength and poor heading ability are two shortcomings which smaller players are always branded with. This could well be the case here too, but the smaller midfielders can often be more tenacious, and being small doesn’t necessarily affect your heading ability, though it may mean you can’t reach the ball above a taller opponent!
Everyone loves a YouTube skills compilation, here’s a look at the player in action: