Hibs kid Ryan Porteous admits he didn’t pay much attention to the French youngsters standing opposite him as he led Scotland’s Under-19 side out for the first time last week.
The names didn’t mean anything but he revealed he’ll be keeping a close eye out for Myziane Maolida, the Olympique Lyonnais starlet who claimed the only goal of the friendly played at Livingston’s Tony Macaroni Arena.
But he insisted it wasn’t so much the match-winner which caught his attention but learning after the game that 18-year-old Maolida has already been the subject of a £7.5 million bid from Barcelona.
And, he believes, Maolida won’t be the only one who will soon become a household name, French stopper Dan-Axel Zagadou, another teenager who is on a five-year contract with Borussia Dortmund, catching his eye.
The narrow defeat inflicted that night was one of two suffered by Donald Park’s young Scots, the French beating them by the same scoreline a few days later in a closed-doors match on one of the outfield pitches at Oriam.
Those games served as preparation for next month’s European Championship ties against Luxembourg, Armenia and the Czech Republic and, conceded Porteous, opened a few eyes although there should be few surprises given that Monaco’s Kylian Mbappe, who is young enough to have played against the Scots, is set to become the second most expensive player in history having been loaned to Paris St Germain only days after they signed Brazilian ace Neymar from Barca for a world-record fee of close to £200m.
Porteous said: “I have to say I didn’t know who Maolida was, nor was I particularly interested – my focus was purely on our team.
“You stick to your own job and I think we dealt with him well. He scored from a set-piece which was disappointing but we shut him out for much of the game.
“But for me it was Zagadou, he was different class. Again, I didn’t know the name but I think in a few years time we’ll probably be looking for their names and saying ‘I played against him’.”
As Porteous pointed out, the young Scots were well aware of the names come the second game, one which he made a second-half appearance as a substitute while Easter Road team-mate Fraser Murray played the full 90 minutes.
He said: “You don’t worry about who you are playing. You can’t go into matches tentative – it’s up to you to show your own ability and to recognise you don’t play for Scotland’s Under-19 side without having ability.
“Physically, the French boys were a bit more progressed than us but ability-wise I don’t think there was too much in it. It was a good experience for us. We were disappointed that the results didn’t go our way but when you look at the likes of Mbappe and Moussa Dembele at Celtic, the French are producing a lot of very good young players.
“But for us those games were about developing as a team and getting ready for the Euros next month. And for me personally, it was a proud moment to be captain and to have led the team out for the first game.”
The encounters with the French also gave Porteous some much-needed game time, the 18-year-old having spent recent weeks warming the bench for Neil Lennon’s side, the Hibs boss having decided it better to keep the youngster with his first-team squad rather than put him out on loan as he had last season when he played for Edinburgh City.
Dumbarton manager Stevie Aitken was so certain he’d landed Porteous, he claimed the deal was “signed, sealed and delivered” before the youngster’s performances pre-season and in Hibs’ early games prompted a change of heart from Lennon.
He said: “I haven’t played as much as last season when I was turning out for Edinburgh City and Hibs’ Under-20 side so it was good to get those games against the French.
“It was a tough task defensively, but that’s what you want as a defender, to test yourself against the best. I don’t think you’ll find many teams will beat this French side.”
Although he remained at Easter Road, Porteous knew he was well down the pecking order behind Darren McGregor, Paul Hanlon, Efe Ambrose and Liam Fontaine but now, with McGregor and Fontaine injured, Lennon’s decision has proved correct.
Porteous said: “I was actually on holiday when I saw it in the paper that Dumbarton thought I was going there on loan. I phoned Eddie May [Hibs head of academy coaching] to ask him what the story was. He told me to hold on, play my pre-season, and we’d see where we went from there.
“It sounds bad from my point of view, but I was lucky there were a couple of injuries and I started a few games in which I thought I’d done all right.”
Porteous’ observation that the French youngsters the Scots faced were “more physically progressed” throws sharp focus on Gordon Strachan’s claim that genetics were to blame for Scotland’s failure to reach next summer’s World Cup finals in Russia but, the Hibs kid admitted, he wasn’t so sure of that assertion, pointing to the success of Spain and the fact that although he isn’t the tallest, Celtic striker Leigh Griffiths has emerged in recent months as the national team’s “main man”.
Having said that, Porteous revealed he’s been working hard on his own physique, saying: “I think as a centre half you need that.
“You have to be quite physical and to enjoy that side of the game and, as a central defender, holding midfielder or a target man up front, you need that.
“I’ve been doing a programme in the gym since I started four years ago and the difference to where I was then and to where I am now is massive. I was 75 kilos then, now I am 80. It’s all about putting the weight on in the right areas, not body fat.”
While working on that side of things, Porteous also insists being involved with the first-team squad on a daily basis, in the build-up to games and on match day itself, has also been of great benefit.
He said: “Only a few weeks ago, I was probably fifth choice, now I am possibly just one injury away from playing. There’s been a couple of times when Efe Ambrose has gone down holding his head and suddenly you become excited and nervous at the same time, realising that you might be going on, but that’s a positive thing. Garry Parker [Lennon’s assistant] told me that I would be in the squad or on the bench most weeks and preparing with the first team for big games, going to places like Ibrox and Celtic Park, and seeing close up what happens on the day has been great for me.”