Ryan Gauld began dreaming of a move abroad at the age of 12 as he watched Lionel Messi, Andres Iniesta and Xavi rip up European football with Barcelona.
By the time he was 18, his dream became a reality as he was hooked off Dundee United’s pre-season bleep test to sign for Portuguese giants Sporting Lisbon.
Overnight the teenager went from living in the leafy Aberdeenshire village of Laurencekirk with 3,000 to joining 500,000 in the bright lights of Lisbon.
It was bold and brave.
Gauld would have to learn a new language, a new culture and prove he could do his talking on the park.
Many would have suffered homesickness.
Others would have become frustrated by the lack of first-team opportunities.
In seven years, Gauld garnered a lot of experience in Sporting Lisbon’s B team and played just under 70 top-level first team games at various clubs in Portugal.
But after a stunning season at SC Farense last year, the technically-gifted, multilingual footballer became one of European football’s hottest properties.
He has made an instant impact at Canadian side Vancouver Whitecaps and become a trailblazer for Scots abroad.
In the final part of our Ryan Gauld exclusive, we tell the story of how a lad from Laurencekirk became a linguist in Lisbon.
Ryan Gauld ducked out of the Dundee United bleep test to sign for Sporting
“The Sporting Lisbon move came about day or two before pre-season was due to start,” Gauld told Courier Sport.
“I went into training on the first day, ready for training.
”Jackie McNamara pulled me aside and said: “You’re not doing the bleep test today wee man, you’re going to Portugal instead.”
“I didn’t know the team at this point. Everything had been kept quiet.
“But Jackie told me I was going to Portugal to speak to Sporting Lisbon and I said: ‘I’ll take that any day over the bleep test!’”
Lionel Messi’s Barcelona sparked Ryan Gauld’s foreign dream – aged 12
The sight of Messi and co ripping up defences across Europe was always something that would appeal to a technical player like Gauld.
The fact that Messi was similar in height to him, even more so.
“I knew from the age of 12 that I wanted to play abroad,” added Gauld.
“When I was growing up I watched Barcelona team that had Xavi, Andres Iniesta and Lionel Messi.
“They were all similar size and stature to me so I felt it was maybe a better path for me to take for my football than the stereotype British way.
“Learning another language and living in a different country was something that really interested me.
“When the opportunity did arrive, I was young but I was already ready to go for it.”
Nani pep-talk helped Gauld learn Portuguese and settle for seven years
Scots are not renowned for their linguistic talents and many find it hard to settle abroad.
But Gauld is a determined young man who sees the benefits that his Portuguese skills will bring in later life.
“I’m happy that I did it and have stuck it out for so long,” added Gauld.
“When I first went to Portugal, I knew it wouldn’t be easy. Nothing about it was going to be easy.
“It was always going to take time but I wanted to throw myself into the deep end.
Whitecaps and MLS fans may not be that familiar with Ryan Gauld so here's a wee compilation from his last season in Portugal. Gauld had an excellent individual campaign despite his team's struggles and received interest from some top sides in Europe as a result.#VWFC pic.twitter.com/vUflmcfUPH
— Byron Hutchison (@ByronHutchison) July 31, 2021
“It wasn’t until my third or fourth year that I felt very comfortable speaking it.
“But I’m definitely happy I did it and hopefully it’s something that I will keep onto later life.
“I started out with lessons. I did two one-to-one lessons and it turned out it was going to be 50 Euros an hour.
“After a couple of lessons I thought ‘I can’t be doing that every week!’
“I had to find another way. I told myself I’ll have to learn from speaking to people.
“Nani was there at the time and he told me that’s the way he learned to speak English at Manchester United.
— Nani (@luisnani) August 2, 2021
“Sometimes it was quite funny and everyone would take the mickey out of me and laugh.
“That’s actually the way I learned. If I said something wrong and everyone laughed at me I’d think ‘I can’t be saying that again.’
“People who live in the cities or the wee towns of Portugal really appreciate someone who has learned their language.
“If a foreigner comes to Scotland we expect them to speak English.
“I always had the attitude that I couldn’t just turn up and speak English. I felt I was in Portugal and should speak their language.
Gauld is loving life in Canada and could see out his career abroad
— Vancouver Whitecaps FC (@WhitecapsFC) August 30, 2021
Gauld has been outstanding since signing for Vancouver Whitecaps, winning several man-of-the-match awards for his new side.
He hopes it will attract the attention of Scotland boss Steve Clarke but Gauld is not pinning his hopes on an international call-up.
He stays in touch with his friends and family in Scotland, and could set a 4am alarm to watch his beloved Dundee United in Sunday’s derby.
But Gauld has no immediate plans to ‘come home.’
“You can never say never but playing in Scotland is not something that is in my plans right now,” added Gauld.
“I can’t look too far ahead as you know what football is like – you can’t plan everything year by year.
“But in the near future I don’t see myself in Scotland at any point.
“I couldn’t tell you where I see myself being. I have three years here at Vancouver Whitecaps and I’m looking to see out the three years here.
“After that who knows where my next step would be?
“But to be honest I can’t really see it being in Scotland.”