Being given the tag as the ‘Baby Messi’ may place considerable pressure and expectation on a player who may struggle with the spotlight placed directly on them, but Ryan Gauld has taken it all in his stride. The 18-year-old starlet has shown maturity beyond his years to deal with the inflated hype surrounding his wonderful ability and skills that gave Jackie McNamara no choice but to thrust Gauld into first team action at Dundee United. An ever-impressive youth setup at Tannadice may have produced its best prospect yet, with Gauld taking to the Scottish Premier League like a duck to water; his style of play and tendency to use his magical left foot instantly to comparisons with Lionel Messi – widely considered as one of the best footballers on the planet. His visions, dribbling skills and ability on the ball make these comparisons with the Barcelona ace inevitable, with Gauld showing wonderful potential to be a future star at domestic and international level.
His immediate rise to prominence in his first professional season at Dundee United led to scouts from major European clubs rushing to see Gauld in action. Manchester United and Liverpool were amongst an impressive list of clubs keeping an eye on the ‘Scottish Messi’ last season, but Portuguese giants Sporting Lisbon have stole a march on everyone by acquiring Gauld’s services for a reported £3 million. The fee represents a considerable coup for Sporting Lisbon and a sensible step-up for Gauld, who could find himself playing Champions League football at the age of 18.
The 2013/2014 Primeira Liga runners-up will be delighted to pull off a sensational transfer to secure the much coveted teenager on a six-year contract that could help Gauld develop into one of the most talented midfielders in Europe. Sporting Lisbon have already enforced a £48 million buyout clause for Gauld, such is the high regard they hold the 18-year-old in. Gauld joins a club with considerable prestige and European pedigree, with 45 trophies across domestic and international competitions to their name. Although the Green and White have struggled in recent years, including narrowly avoiding relegation in 2012/2013, they returned to prominence during a wonderful season under the guidance of Leonardo Jardim who got the very best from a youthful squad. Despite only losing three league games, Sporting Lisbon finished behind champions Benfica to qualify for the Champions League group stages, providing an opportunity for Gauld to shine on the most prestigious European stage.
Although the transfer may have taken many by surprise, particularly considering the calibre of clubs that held a strong interest, moving to Sporting Lisbon may prove to be the best bet for Ryan Gauld’s glittering career. The Scottish starlet joins a club which prides itself in producing talented youth prospects and giving them the chance to express themselves in the first team. Cristiano Ronaldo is one of the most famous graduates from the Sporting Lisbon academy, as it was there where he learnt his trade and harnessed the skills that led to his progression as the 2013 Ballon d’Or winner. Gauld should be able to feel at home with other young players who are making their mark in the professional game, with Eric Dier, Andre Carrillo and William Carvalho illustrating the level of quality Sporting Lisbon have at their disposal. There is every chance that Gauld will flourish in Portugal where he could follow in Cristiano Ronaldo’s footsteps and enjoy a wonderful professional career.