Hibernian manager Lee Johnson believes Ryan Porteous is being actively targeted by opposition players and could be driven out of Scottish football as a result.
Johnson thinks that Porteous now has “a reputation” that’s meant the spotlight is always on him, but also means he is marked out for special treatment. He’s now worried that one of his key players “might want to jump out of the Scottish league”
The Hibs boss was asked about the upcoming introduction of VAR in the Premiership, with his side’s match against St Johnstone next week the first to benefit from the new technology.
Johnson believes one major upside of the system will be the aid that referees get in picking up off the ball incidents. He highlighted an alleged elbow from Dundee United’s Ryan Edwards on Porteous as a recent example of something he thinks should be acted on.
“Well, I think there’s got to be an awareness,” the Hibs manager said. “Absolutely. You know, the off-the-ball stuff should get caught, but it doesn’t get caught enough in my opinion, at this level, at the time or retrospectively.
“We had a big one where Ryan Porteous just received a really heavy elbow off the ball, didn’t get picked up, didn’t get spoken about it.”
Johnson went on to say that the 23-year-old, who made his Scotland debut last month but has also been involved in a number of controversial incidents while playing for his club, was attracting the wrong kind of attention.
“I think as an example, Ryan Porteous just needs a lot more protection than he’s getting at the moment,” he said. “He’s actively being targeted, which is quite interesting and I think he showed great maturity not to react in those situations.
“So this is not any one incident now I’m talking about. I just think you’ve got a Scottish player that’s young, extremely talented, now in the national set-up, that has got a reputation.”
Porteous’ contract expires at the end of the season and Johnson is keen to see him extend his stay at Easter Road. However, he fears that the centre-back may feel he’s being treated unfairly in Scotland and look elsewhere for a new club, pointing out that the scale of the game in England means individuals can be under less of a spotlight.
He said: “I feel it’s more diluted in England because of the number of clubs you have in the league. Whereas here the intensity is so focused, it’s such a goldfish bowl in terms of the media and the amount of times that players and managers will come across each other, I think sometimes there can be a subliminal bias against some players.
“So I think that I just feel like he is a bit like he might want to jump out of the Scottish league for that exact reason because he feels that that target was there on or off the pitch.
“It’s something that as a manager, of a player I think extremely high of, I have to try and step in and look after it.
“It is a concern. You could end up losing players for that type of scenario, if they don’t feel like they are being protected and they think they are being targeted.
“You could want to move on and that could be one of the reasons for that.”
Johnson added that his own experience with the player since taking over at the club earlier this year had been nothing but positive,
“Listen, I haven’t got a bias on Ryan Porteous because I’ve come in and from day dot he’s been absolutely an A-grade professional in every action that he’s done on the pitch, off the pitch and in games like in terms of aggression, in terms of his control,” he said.
“And he’s been an absolute pleasure to work with.”