• Text size      
  • Send this article to a friend
  • Print this article

Youngster is proving to be no passenger ahead of final lift-off

RYAN GAULD slips into a chair at the Old Course Hotel in St Andrews and looks out on the historic greatness of the home of golf.

Farid El Alagui carts his fresh-faced teenage team-mate Ryan Gauld around Ibrox after Dundee United's 2-1 semi-final victory over Rangers in April. Picture: SNS
Farid El Alagui carts his fresh-faced teenage team-mate Ryan Gauld around Ibrox after Dundee United's 2-1 semi-final victory over Rangers in April. Picture: SNS

The personal vista for the 18-year-old, though, is about the future. It starts today at 3pm. Gauld will play some part in the William Hill Scottish Cup final, though he is not certain to start. He is a precious talent but a slight and mercurial one. He faces competition from Ryan Dow to join Gary Mackay-Steven and Stuart Armstrong behind Nadir Ciftci.

With the biggest day of a highly promising career looming, Gauld fields questions about his previous cup final experience with Dundee United. This was as a fan in 2010 when United defeated Ross County.

It is predictable stuff, of buying a ticket with fellow team-mates John Souttar and Euan Spark and celebrating in the boyish manner of going home to watch the highlights. Gauld, after all, was just a wean. He still is in many ways. He has played a total of 41 senior games and is slight to the point where schoolboy comparisons are almost unavoidable.

Two moments in recent memory point to both his physical immaturity and his footballing brilliance. The first occurred when he was spotted beside Virgil van Dijk of Celtic as both appeared at a press conference for the PFA Scotland awards. It was difficult to reconcile the reality that the towering Dutchman and the diminutive Scotsman play the same sport, or indeed chase the same ball.

The second impression is more instructive. It is of Gauld at the semi-final against Rangers at Ibrox. He receives the ball at the edge of the box, nutmegs Richard Foster and looks up to pick out Stuart Armstrong whose miscued shot eventually leads to United's second goal.

This is the sort of intervention that has made Gauld the focus of intensive scouting. As scouts ponder the implications of his frame, they relish the obvious size of his talent. He is a game-changer, possibly a game-winner, but he insists this burden does not weary him.

"I don't pay much attention to what is said about me - I just keep my head down and get on with my football which is what I enjoy doing," he says. "If I read into it too much then it would affect my football so I don't get caught up in it."

His stay at the Old Course included a game of golf with Andrew Robertson, who not surprisingly plays off four. Gauld himself maintains modestly that his handicap is so high he cannot see over the top of it.

He is, though, confident about his ability with the larger ball.

"This feels like a normal build-up and I am quite relaxed about it. I am looking forward to it at the same time," he says of today's final. "I don't think you can change it too much.

"Yes, it is a cup final but you should be doing what you normally do. There is no real reason why anything should change."

But he is being looked at as the player who could make the difference. Is there no pressure accompanying that responsibility? "When you are younger, that is what you imagine happening. You want to be the hero and score the winner in the cup final," he says. "If we win the match, it doesn't matter who scores the winner. We'll all be regarded as heroes."

Gauld and Souttar have already been given a break by Jackie McNamara, the United manager, this season. Both the players' campaigns will be extended by their participation in the elite round of the European Championships in England.

But both may have cause to remember that day in 2010 when they walk out at Celtic Park to face St Johnstone. Gauld knows the Perth side will prove a daunting challenge. "They have had the better of us the times we have played them. They've matched up well against us and we have found it hard to break them down," said the attacker.

"They have got a solid defence and a solid midfield and are good on a breakaway. We are going to have to hope we are on the top of our game and we create plenty of chances."

Gauld has already touched the cup on the day he signed full-time for the club but this afternoon offers the promise of more meaningful contact.

"When you are young, that is what you dream of, being involved in a day like that," he says, recalling 2010. "When I was there, I was never sure that was going to happen in my career never mind being young and being 18. It is going to be a great day."

This is said with the sunniness of youth and a strength of a extraordinarily mature conviction.

Contextual targeting label: 
Football

Commenting & Moderation

We moderate all comments on HeraldScotland on either a pre-moderated or post-moderated basis.
If you're a relatively new user then your comments will be reviewed before publication and if we know you well and trust you then your comments will be subject to moderation only if other users or the moderators believe you've broken the rules

Moderation is undertaken full-time 9am-6pm on weekdays, and on a part-time basis outwith those hours. Please be patient if your posts are not approved instantly.

234039