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Stuart Armstrong: on studying for a law degree and aspiring to play in Germany

PRE-SEASON tours spent cooped up in hotel rooms, being bussed around foreign countries and turning out against lower-league opposition are not always the things dreams are made of for the ambitious young footballers of today.

Stuart Armstrong has been shortlisted for the Young Player of the Year award after excelling this season as part of an exciting United side. Picture: SNS
Stuart Armstrong has been shortlisted for the Young Player of the Year award after excelling this season as part of an exciting United side. Picture: SNS

Stuart Armstrong, the Dundee United midfielder, gives the impression that he is rather different from the norm, though.

He has talked in detail already about his commendable decision to use the spare time afforded by his current job to embrace the challenge of a six-year law degree through the Open University rather than while away the hours tweeting about his favourite chicken restaurants or singing about refugees in the pub.

Those studies are being undertaken with a view to a life beyond football, of course, but this intelligent 22-year-old has clearly been weighing up what he wants from the Beautiful Game for quite some time as well.

It crystallised during the course of last summer as he travelled around Germany with United in preparation for what has been a pleasing season, both personally and collectively. The campaign is due to conclude next month with the small matter of a Scottish Cup final appearance against St Johnstone.

Forget the fact Jackie McNamara's team suffered comprehensive pre-season defeats by German second division sides Energie Cottbus and Union Berlin. Armstrong - who grew up a Leeds United supporter fascinated by the glitz and glamour of the English Premier League - got the chance to see the German game up close and gain a flavour of the terrific organisation and positivity which surrounds the sport in that country.

Ryan Gauld, said to have been on scouting lists passed under the noses of those in the know at Real Madrid, dreams of one day gracing La Liga with his technical skills. Armstrong, stronger and more athletic than his tanner ba' team-mate, likes the idea of furthering his career in the Bundesliga.

"Gauldy said he liked the Spanish League," said Armstrong, who has been attracting the interest of Celtic alongside teams south of the border. "I definitely prefer the German one.

"When I was younger, I always liked watching the English Premier League with all the big players. I was a big Leeds United fan when they had Harry Kewell, Mark Viduka and Alan Smith. I've got some family there and I remember going along to a really exciting 0-0 draw with Sheffield Wednesday.

"However, we played a couple of German teams in pre-season and I really liked their style of play. I think it's a very good league to be involved in, so that's something I'd maybe aspire to be a part of. I think the big crowds and the big stadiums they have in Germany are fantastic. It seems like a very professional league, but I think there are a good few leagues like that.

"Being able to adapt is important as a footballer and a good skill to have and, as much as coming back to the United Kingdom after time away appeals to me, I like to travel and go away to different places."

Armstrong, well-spoken and with a most sensible haircut, seems the sort of fellow you would find helping old ladies across the road and never, ever, ever swearing in front of mum. You could say the same about everyone in this group of young players - Nadir Ciftci excepted, perhaps - who are rising to prominence at Tannadice.

Gauld still looks like he would be delighted to receive a lollipop and a copy of the Dandy rather than a proper paypoke. Andy Robertson, an absolute revelation since arriving from Queen's Park last summer, seems a polite and well brought-up chap as well.

Armstrong insists first impressions should not be misleading, though. Without also having a fiercely competitive edge, none of them would be attracting the kind of attention they are enjoying right now.

"Of course, with any footballer, you need that little streak," he said. "Andy has probably got it most. He's got a bit of a temper on him. Maybe it's because he's Glaswegian. On the way down here, he kept saying we were on our way to the Big Smoke, that he knew his way around the town and that we should stay by his side.

"He's very passionate about winning and he's not happy when that doesn't happen. Sometimes, that's a good trait to have. I'm the calming influence. I just ignore him. Gauldy's very much the same. He concentrates on himself and doesn't let anything faze him too much."

Armstrong is a little more advanced in footballing terms than the likes of Gauld and John Souttar. The midfielder is possibly ready to move away from United and test himself at a higher level and gives the impression he may be willing to listen to offers should they arrive in the months ahead.

"I think we're all very much enjoying our football just now," said Armstrong. "I think that shows on the pitch. Until we're told otherwise, we'll continue doing that.

"The philosophy we have at the club suits us well. You know - passing and moving and keeping the ball on the deck. We're just enjoying it. Andy likes to go on these runs down the left, myself and Gauldy like to get on the ball and play in those little pockets. The style of game we play definitely benefits us.

"I've been at United for five and a bit years, so I have had a lot of games for them, but that is the best way to learn and you do get plenty of games at United. We feel part of something that's quite special and reaching a cup final is very special for all of us."

Armstrong, Gauld, Souttar and Robertson have commandeered the headlines at Tannadice this season thanks to their fine performances, but it must be questioned whether they would ever have been able to prosper without the unsung heroes of Paul Paton and John Rankin doing so much of the dirty work in midfield.

"I don't think they get the credit they deserve," said Armstrong. "Pates got his man of the match award in the cup semi-final with Rangers at the weekend, which was very pleasing as he's put in a lot of good performances this season.

"Ranks has too. It gives us a good balance having those boys behind us because it lets the rest of us get on with attacking."

Armstrong, no doubt a dashing young blade, does not see himself as some kind of pin-up separate from those left to toil in the engine room, though.

"My life's not changed too much," he added. "It's nice when fans recognise that you've played well in a game, but I'm not David Beckham."

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