Ryan Gauld has revealed how the determination Hibs showed in trailing him for weeks convinced him to return to Scotland and join the Easter Road club.
Having made a £3 million move to Sporting Lisbon from Dundee United four years ago, the midfielder admitted the Capital outfit’s interest had persuaded him now was the right time to “come home”.
Gauld joined his new team-mates at their winter training camp in Dubai after completing a loan spell with Portuguese Second Division team Farense and is now poised to make his debut in today’s Scottish Cup clash with Elgin City.
And after coping with being tagged “Mini Messi” in Portugal, the 23-year-old believes he is more than capable of handling the expectation of a Hibs support who are looking for their team, currently sitting eighth in the Ladbrokes Premiership, to turn their season around.
Revealing he first thought of leaving Sporting last summer before he joined Farense on loan, he said: “I didn’t really know what was in store for me then. There was a couple of different options here and there but I decided I would give it a go in the second league. I hadn’t really continually been playing 90 minutes week after week for a few years so I thought if I went there I would hopefully get my rhythm back and then kick on.
“But I became aware of Hibs’ interest a couple of months back. They had been speaking to my agent and keeping him informed of how they were interested in getting me in the door.
“Knowing they were interested in me for so long, that made me feel wanted, it made me feel like they wanted me in the building which is what every wants – and it played a part.
“Their scouting department did a lot of work, made reports, came out to see me play in a couple of games. The fact they were putting in that much effort, if makes you feel like they are really keen, really interested. That was important to me.
“It’s good to be back home. I’m looking forward to getting started, looking forwatrd to getting back playing in front of big crowds.”
Gauld admitted the hype which surrounded his move to Lisbon wasn’t ideal, with constant comparisons to Barcelona superstar Lionel Messi.
He said: “It was made difficult from day one over there. When I would go out for a coffee, sitting in a shopping centre, nobody would even know my name, they’d be saying ‘Mini Messi, Mini Messi’.
“Nobody even knew my name was Ryan Gauld. I didn’t enjoy it and it’s not something I welcomed.”
Gauld conceded there had been “some ups and downs” during his time in Portugal, with the Scot making just two appearances for Sporting before being farmed out to Vitoria Setubal, Aves and latterly, Farense.
However, adamant he enjoyed the experience, he said: “It was all a bit of a shock at the beginning. My first year especially was very good and then with the change of manager, everything became a bit more difficult, there were less chances for me.
“I had a sharp rise at United and then signed for Sporting. That brought huge expectations but I knew it wasn’t going to be quite the way everyone expected. I kept my feet on the ground and worked as hard as possible, to hopefully provide myself with the best career possible.”
Gauld believes he is returning to a rejuvenated Scottish football scene, saying: “I would definitely say it’s a lot more competitive now than when I left because when I was at United, Rangers were down in the lower leagues.
“It was really just Celtic leading the league themselves, but this season you have Celtic, Rangers, Aberdeen. Hearts were on a god run at the start of the season, and then there’s Kilmarnock as well.
“Hibs had an unbelievable run in the second half of last season and if we can repeat that then that puts us right back up there in the top four.
“I’ve seen quite a few Hibs games this season and they’ve been playing well, just not getting the points they deserve. Hopefully I can help to provide a bit of creativity and push Hibs up the league.”
Having won caps at Under-19 and Under-21 level, Gauld admitted a return to the Scotland set-up was something he would hope for – but in time. He said: “I felt like my profile had gone down in the last couple of years. A higher profile is something that the Scottish Premiership can give you. If you look at the last couple of Scotland squads, there has been a lot of guys from the SPFL in them. I’m not giving too much thought to it just now. My main thoughts are on getting my head down, working hard, playing football.
“But, if the opportunity did come back along, I would be really grateful.”