Ryan Gauld is driving home in the Algarve afternoon sunshine. Now fluent in Portuguese, he has just finished a double session with new club Farense.
For the first time in his career he’s competing for a title. On course for promotion to the top flight.
And for the first time since moving abroad in 2014 he’s playing football every week.
Just turned 24, Gauld is as content as he has ever been.
Settled and happy off the pitch, impressive performances on it.
But more importantly, it feels like the shackles have finally been taken off arguably the most prodigious talent Scotland has produced in the last decade.
He’s more relaxed than ever. Free of the pressure and expectation that has followed him around from the day he left Dundee United for Sporting Lisbon.
It felt like the £3million transfer fee and subsequent €60m release clause was an albatross around his neck.
Unable to break into Sporting’s star-studded squad and shipped out on loan to four different clubs, Gauld would be forgiven if
he’d lost confidence or motivation.
But the kid from Laurencekirk is more robust than he looks.
Farense sit top of Portugal’s second tier with the Scot a creative cog in midfield.
Denied opportunities in Lisbon, coach Sergio Vieira has given him a chance to shine in Faro.
In quiet moments Gauld reflects on the life-changing move five years ago and everything that came with it but, despite just five appearances for Sporting Lisbon, he doesn’t regret it for a second.
And incredibly he’s now dreaming of a return to the Estadio Jose Alvalade.
He’ll go back there next season to play against his former club if he can secure a championship-winning medal at Farense.
And Gauld would relish the prospect of finally showcasing his talent in front of the Sporting supporters.
He told MailSport: “This is as happy as I’ve felt since moving to Portugal – being settled really helps. It wasn’t easy sitting every summer, waiting to be shipped out on loan to a different city with new team-mates.
“When everything changes all the time, that’s tough.
“I’ve had five different teams in the last four years, so it’s good to know that I’ve signed for Farense long term and I’m playing every week.
“I feel more secure now. When I look back and reflect on the move to Sporting, there’s not too much I would change.
“In training and in games I always did the best I could.
“I wouldn’t do anything differently. Even the loan moves I accepted at the time felt like they were the best thing for me.
“But clubs either changed their manager or I picked up an injury. I don’t have any regrets about joining Sporting Lisbon. If I didn’t take
that opportunity when it arose, who’s to say that it would have come up again in my career?
“I had to jump at it and not let it pass me by. I wouldn’t change anything I did.
“Now I’m involved in a team that’s fighting to win a league for the first time in my career, so it’s all new for me.
“That brings a new pressure to the games. Other teams are out to beat us at the top of the league and that’s something I’ve never had to deal with before.
“To win the league and get promoted would be a fantastic achievement.
“And to go back to Lisbon as a Farense player and perform against Sporting is something I’d love to do.
“Not just that – I want to get the chance to play against Benfica and Porto in their stadiums as well. That would be incredible.
“If we could achieve promotion and I play as many games as I’m playing now, it would be amazing.
“I still get the odd person coming up to me here saying they wish I’d got more of a chance at
Sporting to show what I could do.
“They tell me to keep going, which is good coming from fans of a team that I never played that much for.
“It would be nice to go there in the top flight and prove they were right to sign me in the first place.
“It’s like any player – if you feel you didn’t get a chance at a club, you want to go back and show them what they missed out on.
“That’s one thing I’d really look forward to and hopefully it happens next season.”
Farense were regulars in the Portuguese Primeira Liga during the ’80s and ’90s but financial problems saw them drop down the divisions.
They’re on the way back after being promoted to the second tier in 2013 and now Gauld wants to be part of taking them back to the big time.
He said: “Farense are a well-known club in Portugal who spent years in the top division.
“But it’s a long time now since they’ve been up there. We’re the biggest club in the Algarve with the best fanbase in the area.
“When the manager called me in the summer and explained what he wanted to do with the team, it was very appealing.
“And you have to say that, so far, it’s all going to plan.
“I’ve just turned 24 so I’ve got time to kick on in my career again.
“Over here, having one or two good seasons for a decent team can really push you on and that’s what I’m hoping for.
“It would definitely help if we get up and play against top teams every week like Benfica, Porto and Sporting.
“It’ll then be down to what I can do on the pitch – and I’m still confident in my ability.
“At the moment I want my future to be in Portugal. I’ve got a two-year contract with the option of a third and I could easily see that out.
“I would prefer that to moving somewhere completely new.
“At the stage I’m at in my career I need to be playing games and it’s better to do that in a country where I know the football and the language.
“I can express myself here now.”
And that’s always been what Gauld’s good at. If you speak to any Dundee United player at the time of his breakthrough, they were blown away by his natural ability.
Sceptics in Scotland will say the move to Portugal hasn’t worked but those closest to him would dispute that. And while before he might have been irked about the perception back home, he’s now fully focused on fulfilling the raw potential he had as a teenager.
Gauld said: “I’m past the stage of worrying what people in Scotland think of me or how my career is going.
“That’s because I’m just so single-minded now in terms of where I want to go with my football.
“I’m not on social media any more so I can’t see what anyone says. I’m not fussed as long as myself, my
girlfriend and my family are happy.
“That’s all I can ask for. For a while I did take notice of it.
“There was a huge thing made of me moving here and how it hadn’t worked out as planned.
“It was always at the back of my mind I had to face that and do something to change it.
“But now I keep my head down and I’m trying to kick on with my career.
“I really believe I’m in the right place to do that.”