On November 8th, newly-promoted SC Farense secured their first win of the season, a hard-fought 3-1 victory over Vasco Seabra’s Boavista. The talisman for Farense that day and indeed for the last 18 months, Ryan Gauld. A player who was catapulted into the headlines at just 16-years-old and dubbed “mini-Messi” in his native Scotland, the 24-year-old talent has found his feet at Farense where he is now playing the best football of his career. Aaron Barton for Próxima Jornada caught up with the diminutive maestro to talk the season so far, his career, ambitions for the future and everything in between.
SC Farense, a modest club based in the Algarve’s capital, kicked off this season as a Primeira Liga team for the first time since the 2000/01 season. After a tumultuous two decades that saw the club drop as far down as the sixth tier of Portuguese football, they are now back in the big time. It is here at Farense where Gauld has had his footballing rebirth. So far this season, Sérgio Vieria’s side have put in several good performances against strong opposition but disappointingly, have just one victory to show for their efforts. Ryan offered a bit of insight and gave his perspective on the season so far.
“We finally got our first win on Sunday (v Boavista) and I think it was long overdue. We’ve been playing really well, especially since the first game of the season. That first game was different, that was a difficult match because we conceded a goal in the first minute and then went down to 10 men just after half-time”.
The match in question was a disaster. Fábio Abreu was on hand to spoil Farense’s return to the top-flight, putting Moreirense ahead after just one minute. Goalkeeper Rafael Defendi was then shown a straight red card on 47 minutes, ten minutes later Moreirense went 2-0 up. Gauld continued, “I think since that game, the results have been really harsh on us because we’ve been in every single game we’ve played, even in games like Benfica away (3-2), so the win has definitely been coming.”
Another match that we discuss is Farense’s narrow 1-0 loss to Rio Ave, Farense had more shots, dominated possession, completed more passes and had more corners. The worst thing about the result, however, wasn’t the statistics, it was that Farense had what appeared to be a legitimate goal ruled out for a foul. The scorer? Ryan Gauld. “I couldn’t believe it!” Gauld says laughing, however you can sense the decision still irks him, and rightly so. “When I saw the ball go in and then heard the ref blowing his whistle I thought, “he must be giving a penalty surely!” When you go back and watch it, the decision honestly gets worse every single time, if anything it’s a foul from the keeper on me, if we’d of won 1-0 it wouldn’t be as bad but losing 1-0 after having a good goal chalked off is frustrating, it made it hurt more.”
“We have a lot of new faces in the squad as well, a lot of new boys that came in, so the more time we’re getting together on the pitch, you can see from the performances that we’re growing, and thankfully we have now got our first win!”
Career Beginnings and The Portuguese Adventure
Gauld first burst onto the scene as a teenager, making his Scottish Premiership debut for Dundee United at just 16 years and four months old. The hype around him started to grow and after appearing semi-regularly in 2012/13, it was the following season when Gauld really arrived. The creative midfielder played 32 games in the SPL, scoring six goals and contributing seven assists. Dundee United supporters were witnessing the emergence of a player with incredible natural ability, who could weave past opponents as though they weren’t there, and pick out passes that others could only dream of. It was at this point that several top clubs in England, including Manchester United and Liverpool, were rumoured to have been watching on with great interest, as well as clubs around Europe.
“To be honest, ever since I can remember, going back to being maybe 12, 13 years old, I’ve always wanted to play abroad in Europe. I watched a lot of Xavi and Iniesta and studied the way they would play, you didn’t see too many of those smaller, technical players playing at that time in Scotland. I watched a lot of Spanish and Italian football and honestly I don’t know what it was, I just know I loved watching those leagues and those kind of players. I think ever since then, it put the idea in my head that I’d like to one day test myself abroad and to see how I’d progress. When I started doing well at Dundee United, there were a lot of clubs interested as you say, the likes of Man Utd but as far as I’m aware there weren’t any concrete offers at that point. Then, I heard about the offer from Sporting and I was eager from the start.”
Gauld’s time at Sporting didn’t go exactly to plan, he went out on loan on four different occasions whilst contracted to the club (Vitória Setúbal, Desportivo Aves, Hibernian and Farense) and ultimately made just five senior appearances for Sporting before leaving permanently in 2019. The Sporting team at the time of his arrival was full of talent and making an immediate impact was always going to be a difficult task for the young prodigy. In fact, when I asked about the best player he’d ever played with, he gave me a few answers, two of those being Sporting’s then midfield pairing of Adrién Silva and William Carvalho.
“Best player? Nani is up there, his quality is just incredible, individual quality, who else…The two midfielders in the Sporting team when I got there, Adrién and William, honestly such a good midfield pair. In training the way they played together and also how they were individually, unbelievable. I tried to mirror my game a bit on Adrién because in my second year at Sporting I was playing in the number 8 so I was watching him and trying to mirror his game, he’s an unbelievable player, he’s got to be up there. Another two would be Daniel Podence and Matheus Pereira”, now of Wolverhampton Wanderers and West Bromwich Albion respectively. “I played with them in the 17/18 season in the B team and you could see even then, they were different. they just had something about them, really talented boys.”
However, Gauld knew he had to leave Sporting and their talented squad and go on loan in order to prove himself. He wanted to show his parent club that he was also highly talented and worthy of selection.
The Loans and Lessons Learned
“I was initially leaving on loan just to try and get the opportunity to play top-flight football. I learned a lot during this time in terms of, at Sporting, you’re kind of given everything, everything is handed to you on a plate, everything you could hope for and wish for, you can have. Then when you go out on loan you kind of see that the clubs outside of the big…5 shall we say? They’ve not got the greatest of conditions, so I learned a lot from that side of it. The main aim was always getting minutes in the first division, which I did at Vitória Setubal. I finally broke into the team, played five or six games, was playing quite well and then the loan got cut short.”
Gauld’s loan at Vitória was cancelled with immediate effect following a fiery clash between his loan club and parent club. Vitória Setúbal won 1-0 in the Taça de Portugal with Gauld playing 72 minutes. The next day, both Gauld’s and team-mate André Geraldes’ loan contracts had been ripped up and they returned to Lisbon. An indication of just how important Gauld was becoming for the Setúbal outfit came when manager José Couceiro claimed the departure of the midfielder had a detrimental effect on their season, claiming, “We would have loved to have kept him this season and he would have helped us greatly.”
Gauld continued to detail his experiences on loan, this time at Desportivo Aves in the second-tier of Portuguese football. “At Aves I had ups and downs. I had a good start to the season but then I got injured and then we swapped managers a few times. The loan spell ended well with us winning the cup so there’s been ups and downs with all the loan spells I’ve had, I always try to take the positives from every situation.
Gauld did return briefly to Scotland, in a loan spell that filled him with great frustration, he managed just six games for Hibernian due to injury. “The loan move to Hibs was definitely frustrating, I really felt like it was a great opportunity and the club was a great platform to show how I’d progressed since I had left Dundee. Unfortunately, I was never really 100% fit during my time there apart from the first few games, then I got the injury. It was frustrating, but it shows you how to deal with things that get thrown at you in football.”
Despite the Sporting move not going as well as he would have hoped, Gauld admits there are no regrets about his decision to move to the club in the first place. “You know, I’m often asked because things didn’t work out great at Sporting, if I regret the move but I say the same every time, when that offer came in, it was what I wanted to do and I didn’t know if I was ever going to get that opportunity again, so I grabbed it with both hands. I took a lot from my time at Sporting both off and on the pitch.”
Coming of Age
These experiences, good and bad, have all contributed to where the player is at today, playing for Farense in the Primeira Liga and flourishing. As a result of this top form, ow his name is once again starting to pop up on the radar, both in Portugal and beyond. Last season, Gauld fully hit his stride, he was magnificent in Farense’s promotion season, capping off the season by winning the LigaPro Player of the Year award.
“Last season? I think it was huge for me. It was the first year that I actually played week-in-week-out for a long, long time. I was playing a lot of 90 minutes and it was the fittest I have ever felt. I think that definitely shown on the pitch. I was enjoying my football and as a result, that season I got my best ever goal return, it was my most productive season (10 goals and 3 assists) and it gave me confidence, Farense as a club gave me confidence to go out and kind of prove a point to people you know? To come good and show that, yes, I am worthy of an opportunity in the Primeira Liga.”
Gauld by his own admission however, is only just getting started. He is confident about his talents and has hopes of excelling even further. “I would say I’ve not reached where I would like to be, to the level I like to think I can reach,” Gauld tells me. “I’ve got intentions to play at even higher levels than where I’m at now. Hopefully, the best is yet to come, I’m still only 24 and I’ve had a lot of experiences to build on in the last 7/8 years. At the moment I’m hoping that this confident phase I am currently in will continue and I will be able to push on even more in my career.”
One of the things he wants most is to pull on the Scottish shirt and play for his senior national side, something he has never done.
“If you ask any player, what they want to achieve the most in their career, the majority of them will say the highest honour is playing for your country. I’ve got plenty of time to prove that I’m worth a call-up, all I can really do is keep my head down and keep working hard like I have been doing the last year/year and a half and hopefully the result comes. It’s out of my hands, for now, I will keep working and keep improving.”
A huge thank you to Ryan Gauld for taking the time out to speak to Próxima Jornada and we can’t wait to continue following him on his footballing journey.