Ryan Porteous 'deserves bumper Hibs deal' says Lee Johnson as he discusses defender's Scotland debut and development
Ryan Porteous has crammed more into the last 12 days than most people manage in a month.
The Hibs defender has spoken in the past about shutting out the noise and letting his football do the talking. The last time he said it was roughly 48 hours before he won the Easter Road side a penalty against Aberdeen that sparked a comeback in a 3-1 victory, but also prompted an angry outburst from Dons boss Jim Goodwin whose accusation that Porteous was guilty of ‘blatant cheating’ earned him a notice of complaint from the Scottish FA.
The fall-out continued in the days after the Scottish Premiership clash. Hibs trolled Goodwin on social media, two former referees suggested Hibs manager Lee Johnson should be probed by the SFA for encouraging his players to cheat, and fans of opposition clubs called into question the player’s temperament, ability, discipline, and suitability for the national team.
A lot of people were made to eat their words when Porteous made his debut for Scotland, putting in a monumental shift at the back as Steve Clarke’s side drew 0-0 with Ukraine to finish top of their Nations League group.
The Hibs centre-back earned plaudits from across the footballing sphere, including his club manager.
"I was super pleased for Ryan; I could tell in his tone how proud he was. It’s been a big focus for him in terms of his training and that goal,” Johnson says.
"He’s been in squads and not quite picked up the minutes. The country has shown the trust in Ryan and he has produced and paid that back in spades.
“I love him as a lad, I’m desperate for him to do well and that’s a big marker in terms of what he can do.”
Speaking before the international break, Porteous conceded the his performances may not have been at the level he wanted but Johnson insists that he has been pleased with the 23-year-old’s displays.
"There have been errors but we’re a new team. We have had conversations about the priority order of what he is, and what he needs to be.
"I think he is in a good place. He’s had a great pre-season and consistency of games, he is one of the first names on the team sheet, we’ve given him leadership responsibilities and we’ve seen them improve.
"At times we demand he concentrates a bit more on the finer details but he’s a good character and taking it all in.”
Sounds like the sort of player any manager would be keen to tie down on a bumper contract, and Johnson is no different. But he recognises there is still work to do.
"We’ll have to offer him a very strong deal,” Johnson admits.
Does that mean the manager will be nudging the board to add another zero on, so to speak?
"Absolutely. He deserves it. We want players who have done well, getting international honours – we don’t want to undercut them. We want to show the academy that this is what you can do, and earn, as long as you’ve produced for the football club.
"Ryan is right at the top end of that. He is part of the furniture here and he has that emotional stability being at the club.
"He has been here a long time and potentially hasn’t been – in my opinion – bumped up quick enough to maintain the importance of the players.
"That’s where we’ve put ourselves at risk a little bit and we gave to try and remedy that.
"We're still in talks, we’re having positive talks, and we've got a scheduled meeting next week with his agents which I'm looking forward to. We don't know what's going to happen but whatever does happen, we'll be as prepared as we can.
"I think he's in a great place psychologically, physically, technically, and tactically and we hope he stays. We will make a strong offer considering all those factors."
It is clear to see how much Porteous loves and appreciates playing for his boyhood heroes but Johnson recognises that it’s not just about the emotional pull.
"I think Ryan will always want to see the club do well but the reality is that footballers want to play as high as they can for as long as they can. We all want to be successful,” he explains.
Porteous has attracted interest from several clubs since becoming a mainstay in the Hibs defence.
Clubs from Russia and Turkey have reportedly been keeping tabs on the defender as well as a host of teams in England.
Johnson has experienced similar and believes there is a lot to weigh up.
"We’ve had loads of conversations, we’re always having coffees and sit downs. We’re not just talking football, we’re talking about life, we’re talking about performances,” he continues.
"I’ve been there as a player, I’ve been up here playing and had clubs come in for me when I was down south.
"Is the grass always greener? Will you be on big money but then not get the opportunity?
" I always think if you are playing well and are an indispensable member of the team, if someone wants you it’s always better for someone to come and get you and spend big on you because they are actually almost obliged to play you from the start.
"You go somewhere on a Bosman and it’s not quite the same. It depends on what level that is.”
When asked if he had spoken to Porteous in the aftermath of Goodwin’s comments, Johnson remains coy.
“As a club you do the right thing and that’s to support your player. He made a genuine attempt to go and score a goal.
"Whether it’s perceptions of him that have been taken into account, I have no idea. All I’m interested in is us, and I give the support to my players that they need and deserve.”