22 years old. 78 games for one of Scotland’s top teams. Fast. Tall. Physical. Commanding. A handful at set pieces. Ryan Porteous has all the top makings to make it to the top of the game, but Hibs‘ number five risks becoming a liability if he doesn’t eradicate his one vital flaw.
Yet again, this past Sunday’s fixture with Rangers brought out the worst of the Dalkeith defender. If you didn’t watch the match and were told a Hibs player had received a red card in the first half, you likely wouldn’t need more than a solitary guess to place Porteous as the culprit. Not only does he have previous, but it’s also now enough to be called a pattern.
Taking the challenge on Joe Aribo in isolation, while Scottish football will always be polarising, Porteous’ precipitous challenge is as stonewall of a red card as you’ll see. While the only argument against the Hibs man getting his marching orders is the contact made on Aribo, everyone watching should be thankful there wasn’t more impact – or it could have been the end of the Nigerian playmaker’s season. Now I’ll never agree to “trial by Sportscene” – almost any tackle can be manipulated into one freeze frame and look like a sending off, but this reckless action actually looked worse at full tilt. The freeze-frame might be needed to see the height of Porteous’ leg during the lunge on this occasion because the speed the sweeper slides in at was at such a pace you didn’t have to blink to miss it. That pace, coupled with the rigidity of the extended leg of the Scotland under-21 star, showcases the epitome of excessive force.
Now, the big question is, “What’s going through his mind?” Sadly that’s something only Ryan Porteous can answer. Was he just pumped up for a clash that would see the winner top the table? For a 22-year-old youngster playing in a league where you’re on the outside looking in at what has been a two-horse race would be understandable. Over-excitement has seen much more experienced player get their marching orders for a rush of blood to the head. However, when it becomes a pattern, and it has with Porteous, questions arise.
Joe Aribo isn’t the first Rangers player to be on the opposing end of a rash challenge from Porteous, with Barisic and Koulibaly taking the brunt in previous fixtures. And that’s before we mention the man who Porteous relished the challenge most against, that saw both Rangers and Hibs fans watching the bout with their head in their hands, anticipating that either the Hibs defender or Alfredo Morelos would cost their respective team the match with a moment of madness. However, for Porteous’ long-standing rival, the penny seems to have (finally) dropped.
The Colombian has swapped liability for reliability, reducing his red card count – which wouldn’t have been difficult – while still keeping that bit of an edge that makes him a handful for any centre back. Look a bit further back, and a former Hibernian player managed to tone down his mean streak and channel that aggression to become a serial trophy winner in Scott Brown.
Porteous doesn’t need to completely eradicate physicality from his game. In fact, to do so may be almost as detrimental to his career as card collecting will. Centre backs will always pick up yellow cards and the occasional red. It’s just the way of the world. However, it’s about intelligence and picking your battles – and needless challenges with your studs facing the sky aren’t the cleverest of risks to take.
Is Ryan Porteous malicious? I’m not prepared to even commit my thoughts to that, as I genuinely can’t tell. Does he have an agenda against Rangers? I’d also call that a stretch somewhat, but the majority of Porteous’ red cards, and controversial incidents, do tend to arise against the Ibrox side. Is it the magnitude of the occasion? Quite possibly. One only has to look back to the Edinburgh derby when the ball went floating towards the corner flag, an easy take for the powerhouse Porteous but, instead of dealing with the ball – meat and drink for any defender – Hearts stole a cheap corner with the former Edinburgh City man more intent on giving his opponent a body check than smashing the ball into touch or, since he had an abundance of time, up the park and out of the danger zone.
There’s seemingly something in Porteous’ programming which magnetically draws him to trouble. Now, if you can channel that aggression, brilliant! However, as the fixture – or fixtures – against Rangers have shown, if you can’t utilise it in the right way, you cost your team the match. While Hibs did have Darren McGregor readied as a replacement, centre back is arguably the second worst area to lose a man no matter the scoreline, penultimate to the one person behind them on the pitch.
With Hibs 1-0 up and causing Rangers all sorts of problems, there was a sense of irony in Jack Ross having to sacrifice arguably the team’s most intelligent player in Scott Allan after one moment of stupidity from a man who has the potential to become their most saleable asset. With no Scott Allan and a backline having to readjust and reassess the challenge, Hibs receded and, inevitably, conceded. From the top of the league to third place in one fell swoop. Now, we don’t know that Rangers wouldn’t have mounted a comeback regardless, but it would have been much more of a herculean task had the precipitous Porteous stayed on the pitch.
🗣️"When you look at it, he has gone over the top of the ball. Luckily he didn't catch the man as badly as he could have done."
Former Premier League referee Dermot Gallagher says Ryan Porteous' tackle on Joe Aribo was a red card. Do you agree?👇 pic.twitter.com/VHfN7YZpk6
— Sky Sports Scotland (@ScotlandSky) October 4, 2021
The craziest part of all, of course, is that Ryan Porteous does have all the makings of a star player. His aforementioned turn of pace and upper body strength are the perfect ingredients of a future Scotland superstar. Add to this that he scored around one goal in every ten games, and you have an asset on paper – and one that should have Scots shouting for a call-up in a position where we could do with cover. Just look at the current Scotland National Team. While Grant Hanley’s experience and performances over the past year have cemented his position in the squad and, while Andy Robertson is available, the once-in-a-generation talent that is Kieran Tierney will take up the second of those three centre back spots, there is undoubtedly one up for grabs.
While McTominay can put in a shift there and Liam Cooper seems like the obvious third choice due to the level he plays at, Steve Clarke hasn’t fully committed to the Leeds captain. While Porteous would seem like a no-brainer due to his age, established position in a soaring Hibs team, and Kevin Nisbet and Paul McGinn getting call-ups, a cap has not been forthcoming. Now, as a Scotsman, I feel mainly relief at that. But also a tinge of poignance.
Ryan Porteous, minus the red cards and needless trouble, is very much on the road to becoming a top player. However, the sending offs are a much unwelcomed detour as the 22-year old risks ending a fellow professional’s career if he sticks with the philosophy that fast, aggressive, rash challenges are key to his game. Even more problematically for Porteous, though, is that he risks shortening his own career, both in terms of length and ambition. While Celtic have struggled at the centre pack berth and been linked with the likes of Scott McKenna and Declan Gallagher in the past, Porteous would seem like an ideal fit to shore up the backline. But Rangers fans would be rubbing their hands if the number 5 moved from the east of Scotland to the East End of Glasgow.
So how does Porteous recognise his potential? Well, the answer is simple. On paper. However, as we’ve established by Porteous’ potential, football isn’t played on paper. In reality, the Hibs man must take accountability, listen to the former pros giving advice, and perhaps try to emulate Alfredo Morelos and Scott Brown. Now, neither man is infallible, not by any means. Morelos still puts himself about and embraces the fight within the 90 minutes, but he manages to keep it on the right side of acceptability largely. Scott Brown – well, one only has to look at how the Aberdeen vs Celtic match went when he was bafflingly substituted to see his impact. Both do still have that aggressive love to hate and hate to love persona, but the red cards and suspensions have become the exception, rather than the rule for two of Scottish football’s most polarising figures.
If Ryan Porteous wants to become the player he undoubtedly can become, he needs to become more careful and measured in his approach on the pitch. A cool head is clearly needed, particularly in a league where you’ll face players with the ability of Kemar Roofe and Kyogo Furihashi, and even Liam Boyce and Tony Watt. There’s a player in there, but he needs to focus on playing the ball, not the man.
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