When news broke a couple of years back that Rangers may have been lining up a move for Ryan Porteous, the then Hibernian defender was just as shocked as anyone else with even a passing knowledge of Scottish football at the time. Porteous and the Ibrox club have history, as they say.

Ancient history, he would now contend. Porteous will be 25 next week, and a move to Watford has matured him as a player and a person after he left behind the often-heavy baggage he had accumulated while turning out for his boyhood heroes at Easter Road.

He admits that perhaps, at times, he made mistakes in his early career. But the ensuing attention and abuse he received was, he feels, not only undeserved, but the making of him. As unwelcome and unpleasant as it was to experience at the time.

An ongoing public war of words between Porteous and then Rangers manager Steven Gerrard could have, he now realises, ‘taken him under’. Gerrard twice criticised Porteous for tackles on his players, with the defender being ordered off for challenges on Borna Barisic and then Joe Aribo, a tackle that Gerrard called a ‘leg breaker’.

READ MORE: Rangers boss Steven Gerrard slams 'leg-breaking' Ryan Porteous tackle that 'let his manager down'

The fallout was severe, with then Hibs manager Jack Ross saying that his player had received all manner of unsavoury messages on social media in the aftermath of the incidents and Gerrard’s subsequent comments.

"I have seen sectarian abuse, homophobic abuse, people telling him they hope he dies of a tumour,” Ross said.

Porteous would have the last laugh, infamously poking fun at Gerrard’s insistence he was staying at Rangers before leaving for Aston Villa, aping his ‘Do I look happy?’ response in an interview of his own after Hibs had beaten the Ibrox side 3-1 in the League Cup semi-final.

He admits though that the attention he received wasn’t so funny at the time, and that he has his family and friends to thank for not only getting him through that period, but for helping him become the player and person he is today, and a fixture in the Scotland national team.

“I think if I didn’t have as many people around me that help you out, a lot of people could go under with the stuff I kind of dealt with,” Porteous said.

“But I had good managers, good teammates and a good group of mates and family that always said don’t listen to it and read it and I taught myself not to.

“When you are young and coming through, you always pick up your phone and go on Twitter or whatever and you look at it.

“There are a lot of young lads that might go through similar that could go under, but I always had a good group of people behind me and obviously within football who said don’t listen to it.

“You learn from mistakes. You take the positives as well. I think that kind of stuff makes you stronger. You learn from the naivety you have at a young age. It’s stood me in good stead.

“Listen, hopefully I’ve got better. A better player. A better person. On and off the park as well. You learn from these things, but I don’t think it was as big a problem as it was made out to be.

“Hopefully the one thing that’s changed over the last three or four years is I’ve become a better player.”

If you were to try to name a defender who differs completely in his approach to the game to the Porteous of Hibs, then Virgil van Dijk would probably be the prime example, with the Dutchman mastering a laidback approach to defending that has carried him to the very top of the game.

Porteous would certainly not compare himself with the Liverpool captain in any way, shape or form, but he will be sharing a pitch with him on Friday evening as Scotland take on The Netherlands in Amsterdam, the first of their friendly outings as they tune up for the European Championships this summer.

Van Dijk, he says, is the sort of player he has been looking to learn from as he has refined his style and complemented his raw aggression with a more measured approach.

“I’ve not been hot headed for a while,” he said.

“There have been flare ups at times, but no, he’s a brilliant player.

READ MORE: Does Ryan Porteous look happy at international level? You better believe it

“You try and watch the Premier League games and big games as much as you can, and he is one of the best defenders in the world.

“It will be good to step onto the same pitch as him, but the next step is not just being there, but making an impact and showing what you can do.

“He’s obviously right up there as one of the best players in the world, never mind just centre-backs. He’s been doing it on the big stage for a long time.

“I dunno if I am going to compare me to him, but, hopefully, we will go and as a team try to work hard against, and break down, a very good Holland team.

“These are the games that we want to try and take the next step because these are the games we will be playing at the Euros, against top teams.

“The next step for us is competing with them and beating them.”