GARY JARDINE knew Ryan Porteous was something special when he bullied ex-Liverpool striker Florent Sinama Pongolle – after a day at school.
And he has backed the precocious Hibs defender to become a Scotland mainstay for the next decade.
Jardine was the manager of Edinburgh City when he attended a Hibs under-20s fixture in search of top young talents and was immediately struck by the no-nonsense teenager in the heart of their back-line.
Despite Porteous only entering the fray as a substitute after an afternoon at Dalkeith High, he found the net in a 3-2 victory over Dundee United and gave the France international a torrid time.
“He was a bit of a throwback,” said Jardine. “I loved that about him. I remember watching him in a game for Hibs’ under-20s and he was up against the lad who played for Liverpool, Sinama Pongolle. He gave him such a hard time.
“He had actually been late for that game because he’d been at school that day!
“That summed up his commitment. That has never changed. His appetite for the game, drive and determination, left me in no doubt that he would get to this level.”
That was in April 2016.
Two months later Porteous joined City on loan, ready to embark on his maiden campaign in senior football in the rough and tumble of League 2.
He also continued to play for Hibs’ youth side and was a regular for Scotland at under-19 level. All told, he played more than 70 games during the 2016/17 season.
And his only complaint, according to Jardine, was that it wasn’t more.
He told Capital City Press: “I mind once he played for Scotland under-19s on the Sunday, flew back at played for Hibs under-20s on the Monday and was in a bad mood with me because I wouldn’t pick him for a game on Tuesday!”
Porteous scored three goals in 24 outings for City, facing every challenge head-on and learning from experienced teammates such as hulking defender Joe Mbu and ex-Scotland and Celtic attacker Craig Beattie.
“The idea of the loan was for him to learn the real defending side of the game with us – Joe Mbu was vital,” Jardine continued.
“He taught him how to be vocal, to lead, which you don’t get in youth football.
“In his first training session he was already giving Craig (Beattie) it tight. He trained as he played and was never afraid of a reputation.”
Those attributes shone through upon his return to Easter Road. Porteous has now made 35 senior appearances for the Hibees – it would have been many more but for a severe knee injury last term – and has scored seven goals.
His burgeoning reputation as one of the brightest young defenders in Scotland was cemented on Tuesday when he was drafted into Steve Clarke’s squad to face Cyprus and Kazakhstan.
“Steve obviously wants to get him in for a look ahead of the (Nations League) playoffs in March,” added Jardine.
“However, it was inevitable that Ryan would be in there, sooner or later.
“It’s now going to get harder for him. He needs to keep working. He’ll make mistakes, no doubt, but I’m sure he’ll learn and get even better.
“This is an incredible opportunity for him and if he impresses then there’s no reason he can’t be a Scotland mainstay for the next 10 or 12 years.”