The time for hype is over, Ryan Gauld must prove he wants to be taken seriously

Given that he was dubbed the ‘Mini Messi’ in his days as a teenager at Dundee United, a sense of giddy excitement was always going to surround Ryan Gauld.

But the time for hype is over. It is now time for Gauld to prove that he wants to be taken seriously as a footballer of genuine substance.

He’s not a young boy anymore. He’s 23 years of age. For some context, his former United team-mate Andy Robertson is 24.

Robertson is competing to win a Premier League title with Liverpool, has played in a Champions League final against Real Madrid, and is arguably the best left-back in Europe.

He is also the captain of his country. Gauld, by contrast, has yet to win a senior cap for Scotland.

Who could have predicted that when he made his debut for United as a fresh-faced 16-year-old back in May 2012?

We’re now six-and-a-half years down the line and he hasn’t even got so much as a single cap to his name.

It’s remarkable for someone who was widely considered the best young player in the country back in those days.

That’s the thing with Gauld. When you think of the abundance of talent United had back then – Robertson, Stuart Armstrong, John Souttar, Gary Mackay-Steven and Co – he was the pick of the bunch.

That’s why Sporting Lisbon forked out £3million to sign him in the summer of 2014. They handed him a six-year deal and slapped a £48million buyout clause in his contract.

What’s happened in the intervening period clearly hasn’t gone to plan.

He has made just five first-team appearances for Sporting, punctuated by various loan spells.

Last season he was playing with Desportivo Aves, who only narrowly avoided relegation from the Portuguese Primeira Liga.

He’s now back in Scotland on loan at Hibs and, quite simply, it’s make-or-break time.

I played against Gauld when he was making his breakthrough at United and I rated him really highly.

It’ll be interesting to see how he’s developed since then. With such emphasis on skill in Portugal, you’d imagine his technique and touch will be silky smooth.

But ability on its own isn’t always enough. It’s alright having a highlights reel on YouTube, but medals count for far more.

Armstrong should serve as the perfect example to Gauld in that respect. He won eight major honours at Celtic after joining from United.

He has also established himself as a regular with Scotland and is now operating down in the Premier League with Southampton.

Gauld must look at Robertson and Armstrong and think to himself: ‘Did I actually make the right move by going abroad?’ It seems to have halted his progress and brought his career to a standstill. It’s up to him to kickstart it once again.

He has to prove that he hasn’t just been on a four-and-a-half year holiday over in Portugal.

Gauld seems to be a bright guy and I’m sure he’ll have benefited from the experience, culturally if nothing else.

But he’s now at a stage of his career where he should be past all the talk of ‘potential’ and ‘learning curves’.

By the age of 23, you should be established as a first-team regular for club and country.

If he has the desire to do that, then both Hibs and Scotland will reap the rewards.

If he’s still the little playmaker with the dancing feet and eye for a pass, then Neil Lennon has made a hell of a signing.

He could be exactly the type of player they’ve been crying out for this season to ignite their misfiring forward line.

Lennon has bemoaned his strikers quite regularly this season, but it works both ways.

They need service – and Gauld might just be the missing piece of the jigsaw in that respect.

As much as Lennon emphasises teamwork, he’ll happily tell a player to operate with a free role as and when necessary.

When I played under him, he used to tell me: ‘Play in the hole behind the strikers, get on the ball and on the half-turn as often as you possibly can, and go and win us the game.’

That’s the kind of role I imagine Gauld now being handed at Hibs. He’ll be told to express himself and win games for his team.

The chance to go over and play in Portugal was, in all honesty, probably one he couldn’t turn down as a young lad.

But he’s not a young lad anymore. For Gauld, it’s all about the here and now.

Kilmarnock must be cursing their luck. Not one but two hammer blows in the space of a week.

With the departure of Greg Stewart, Killie have effectively been victims of their own success.

Birmingham City have chosen to recall him from his loan spell because of his outstanding form over the first half of the season.

Stewart’s goals and assists have been a key factor in Steve Clarke’s men mounting a title challenge.

He’s one of the most gifted players they’ve seen at Rugby Park in recent times and I’ve no doubts the fans wish him well.

He leaves on good terms. The same can’t be said, however, for Jordan Jones.

What a mess he’s got himself into on social media through his own naivety.

He confirmed that beyond all doubt when he posted a cringeworthy message on Twitter sucking up to Rangers fans after it was announced that the Ibrox club have signed him on a pre-contract.

Jones needs a reality check. He’s still a Kilmarnock player and will remain so until the summer unless Rangers pay a fee to take him this month.

He’s been excellent for the Ayrshire side, but this will have left a really sour taste in the mouths of the fans.

He has disrespected the club. He wouldn’t have done it deliberately. It’s just been sheer stupidity.

How can he walk back into the Killie dressing room now? Particularly when their first league game after the winter break is against none other than Rangers.

Clarke is a no-nonsense character and I suspect he’s probably raging at Jones.

One of the club’s best players has made his position nigh-on untenable through reckless and unprofessional behaviour on social media.

Story of the week goes to Leeds manager Marcelo Bielsa, who admitted spying on Derby County prior to a 2-0 win last Friday night.

He ordered one of his staff to snoop around the Derby training ground – and then brazenly admitted it live on TV.

I hope Bielsa and Leeds are punished accordingly. There’s an unspoken moral code in football of certain things you just don’t do. But I suspect spying happens more than we all know.

At Celtic, we used to have security officers patrolling the perimeters to make sure nobody was snooping around.

Brendan Rodgers took it a step further when he put up green mesh on the fences to block any prying eyes.

I hadn’t heard of anything like this before. Maybe the managers know something we don’t?

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