Ryan Porteous on Hibs form, leadership role, new deal, and international call-up - 'I'm ready to be a Scotland centre-back'
Ryan Porteous is ‘buzzing’, he says, with a first Scotland call-up in nearly a year.
It is perhaps a touch ironic that, when he was playing out of his skin last season for Hibs, the phone didn’t ring; perhaps a side-effect of the managerial turmoil at Easter Road. Maybe Steve Clarke was trying to do him a favour.
“With previous call-ups I was still young and a bit naive on the park, but I feel I'm ready now to make that step up and be a Scotland centre-back,” he says.
"That’s the next step for me and I feel I've put myself in a good position to be able to do that.”
His inclusion may have come as a surprise to those who feel Porteous hasn’t quite reached the heights he did last season, but the player is the first to admit there’s more to come from him in green and white.
“My performances this season have obviously been at a standard that convinced Steve that I'm capable of playing for his Scotland team,” he continues.
"Do I feel they’ve been at the level they potentially could be? Probably not, but I’m in the squad, with the chance to prove myself, and that's what I wanted to achieve.”
At this point a sizeable elephant wanders into the room: the prospect of extending his stay at Hibs. Manager Lee Johnson has already revealed that ‘positive talks’ have taken place.
“We have had chats and I have been pretty clear from the start that football is my main focus right now,” Porteous explains.
"From the start of the season I’ve been concentrating on football and it’s paid off because I’m in the Scotland squad. That’s all I really want to do just now, concentrate on playing football, and keep the discussions private.”
Many footballers have career paths that don’t always follow the expected route. For Porteous, he has come through the ranks at his boyhood club, impressed out on loan, been given a chance in the first team, and become a key player and a starter. It would be fair to say that he hasn’t looked back since.
But there’s always the prospect of looking forward. It’s a short career, and maybe seeing former defensive colleague Josh Doig earning a move to Italy and Serie A with Hellas Verona, or even pal Martin Boyle’s brief sojourn in Saudi Arabia has given the commanding centre-back food for thought.
“Hibs are a big club, a massive club and if I am playing well and Hibs are performing then there is always the chance of getting international recognition,” he continues.
"We have seen that before with me, Kevin Nisbet, others. There are a lot of internationalists here and Boyley is going to a World Cup so this is a great platform.
"I am fully concentrating on playing football and now I’m in the Scotland squad, my main focus is getting my performance level up to make sure I’m there regularly.”
New coaching staff
Having played his first senior games for Hibs during the 2016/17 season, Porteous has now worked under five permanent managers and two interim bosses on two separate occasions. How does he feel about that?
"It’s been both good and bad to have worked with so many managers; fortunate and unfortunate,” he muses.
"But I think I’ve taken a lot from them. It’s sometimes hard for players to go through these transitions but I enjoy the tactical side of the game, and the mental side of the game that the managers have all brought.
"This gaffer is different to the managers we’ve had before and he’s worked closely with me on certain parts of my game.
"Maybe in the first few games of the season I don't think the team really clicked. But there are 16 new players so we need to give them time to settle, and the manager time to put across what he wants. I’m enjoying working with him and his staff and I'm looking forward to developing."
As part of his development Porteous was handed a key role in the new leadership structure, with David Marshall assuming matchday armband duties and Paul Hanlon retaining his role as club captain. The defender doesn’t dodge queries about the off-field issues that clouded last season – “Everybody has learning curves but it’s in the past and I’ve been solely focused on trying to let football do the talking”.
During the 2-2 draw with Rangers, when regular sparring partner Alfredo Morelos was red-carded, Porteous didn’t rush to be first on the scene. Last season he might have. Elements of the pantomime villainy remain, such as pointing and laughing at Kyle Lafferty after the pair had a coming-together during Hibs’ 1-0 victory over Kilmarnock, but – to borrow a phrase from Johnson – perhaps Porteous has turned the dial the other way.
There was a pre-season insight into those developing leadership qualities when the defender was mic’d up during a friendly match in Portugal…
“I think the manager wanted to see how I would react in certain situations and how I could help younger boys, because I was playing with Jack Brydon. It was the edited, it could have been seriously incriminating if it was the full version,” he laughs.
“But it was interesting. Certain parts of my game, like communicating with people, the manager thought I could work on and so it was a good insight. I enjoyed it.”
We may never know the identity of the poor soul on the receiving end of the ‘dinnae tut at me’ line from the centre-back but it was certainly a fascinating exercise and typical of Johnson’s approach to coaching and development. It may also have been one of the first signs of a change in Porteous and his approach, his attitude.
"I’m looking forward to concentrating on my football and being rewarded for it now. Hopefully I can maintain that,” he finishes.