12 months ago, a 17-year old Ryan Gauld was just coming to the end of a promising season as a Dundee United player. The midfielder made his full debut in April 2013, scoring in a 1-1 draw with St Johnstone and he finished the campaign with a reputation as one of the brightest young prospects in Scottish Football.
Jackie McNamara’s side saw enough potential in the player to deliver a new contract in November of last year but even at that stage, it was hard to foresee that Gauld would be tracked by some of the best clubs in Europe by the end of the campaign.
Current Manchester United boss David Moyes has previously said that he would like to personally scout the player shortly before he was named on a list of the world’s best emerging talents. That list was compiled by Italy’s Gazetta dello Sport, so clearly Gauld’s reputation has spread far beyond his homeland.
McNamara himself has said that his player will develop into one of the all-time greats of British football but how long can the Terrors, and Scotland as a whole, hope to hang on to him?
As the domestic campaign draws to a close, Gauld has so far managed eight goals in 32 appearances for Dundee United but his assists have brought even more value to the side. The remarkable thing about the youngster is his close control and dribbling skills which have brought inevitable comparisons with Lionel Messi. That may be a little unfair at this stage of Ryan Gauld’s career but when you study footage closely and then watch him at close quarters, it’s easy to see why the connection has been made.
The Scottish Under-21 International also has greater physicality than his slight frame suggests, while at 18, he can run all day. It all adds up to the perfect package and it seems inevitable that Gauld will leave his present club sooner rather than later, but would it actually benefit Scottish football if Gauld were to move outside of the SPFL?
David Moyes’ comments ensure that the link with Manchester United has been maintained, while other English Premier League teams have also been mentioned in connection with the 18-year olds’ signature. Arsenal and Liverpool are two further names in the frame while heading across Europe, Juventus and Real Madrid are mentioned as potential suitors.
Ryan Gauld himself is naturally focussing on life at Tannadice Park but in a recent interview, he hinted at where his future may eventually lay.
“Growing up, I watched the Spanish Leagues and prefer that style,” Gauld told the Mail. “Getting the ball down and being patient with the build-up play. In England, it’s maybe more direct.”
Spain may be Gauld’s preference, but England seems a likelier destination. Back in 1974 when Scotland were unbeaten at the 1974 World Cup under Willie Ormond, 12 of the 22 man squad played in England. In March 2014 when Gordon Strachan named his 23 to face Poland, no less than 18 men played their football south of the border but there is a key difference.
40 years ago, those English based players were at title chasing clubs such as Manchester United and Leeds United but with the exception of Darren Fletcher, the current squad is very different. Strachan is now picking his team from the lower reaches of the Premier League while dipping into the Championship to pick up Chris Burke, Christophe Berra, Matt Gilks and others.
One player doesn’t transform a team but if Ryan Gauld were to head to a top club in the Premier League, Serie A or La Liga, he would be in a far more competitive environment that would develop his undoubted talent and ultimately serve to benefit the national side.
If Dundee United were to qualify for Europe, a place in the Europa League may persuade Gauld to stay at Tannadice when the bigger clubs come calling in the summer. The cup seems a likelier route than the league, with McNamara’s men rated as even money shots at Betfair to beat Rangers and reach Celtic Park. After the semi, a final against Aberdeen or St Johnstone awaits.
Even if the Terrors were to claim a Europa League place, it’s likely that one of the clubs expressing an interest will make an offer for Ryan Gauld in the next transfer window and a decision will have to be made. Everyone at Dundee United will hope that he decides to continue his education in the SPFL, but for fans of the national team, a move to a more testing league is probably the best solution.