How do you solve a problem like Derek Riordan?


Given his unquestionable ability and goal-scoring record, it would appear perplexing that he has failed find a club since leaving St. Johnstone at the end of last season. Riordan is currently training with Kilmarnock – with manager Kenny Shiels insisting the club are only providing facilities for him to maintain his fitness – following unsuccessful trials with an unnamed La Liga club, MK Dons, and Ross County this summer, a scenario which none would have predicted when Riordan emerged from the Hibs youth system just over a decade ago.

His first spell at Easter Road brought 64 goals in 146 appearances. None were more memorable than the forward’s first goal against Hearts: Riordan drifted in from the left hand side and curled a beautiful shot past Craig Gordon into the top right hand corner. Riordan was voted the Scottish PFA Young Player of The Year in 2005 and won a call up to the international squad later that year; however, in that same year Riordan caused controversy when he was caught on video chanting racist abuse about Hearts’ Rudi Skacel.

Riordan won himself a move to Celtic in 2006 on the back of three seasons in which he had finished as Hibs’ top goal-scorer. Eight goals in 13 starts in all competitions for Celtic illustrates his penchant for finding the back of the net; however, Riordan remained aloof from Celtic manager Gordon Strachan’s first team, despite the manager describing him as the most natural finisher at the club.

Controversy again courted Riordan in 2008. He was banned from all Edinburgh pubs and clubs following an altercation with door staff at a nightclub. The ban was then extended in November of the same year after he allegedly punched someone in another nightclub.

Incidents like these are likely to have contributed to Strachan’s uneasy relationship with Riordan, which explains his reluctance to play him despite comments made over his ability.

Two years of playing little football stinted Riordan’s progression at a time when his game was still developing; however, even the most sage would not have predicted that his move to Celtic would be so unsuccessful and frustrating.

Riordan was offered a chance to resuscitate his career in a place he had always appeared most comfortable, Easter Road, when then Hibs manager Mixu Paatelainen signed the forward in 2008. Statistically Riordan’s second spell with Hibs was almost as successful as his first: he finished as top goal-scorer in two of the three seasons he was with the club, despite often being deployed in a mid-field left position. In December 2009 “Deeks” reached a landmark century of goals in the green and white of Hibs. Riordan was even named Captain under Colin Calderwood and scored the winner the last time Hibs defeated Hearts – scoring a penalty in a 0-1 win at Tynecastle in 2009.

At the end of the 2010/11 season – in which Riordan had once again finished as Hibs’ top scorer – he signed a two-year contract with Chinese Super League club Shaanxi Chan-Ba.

However, the Scot failed to adapt in the foreign environment and his contract was mutually terminated after only five months, in which he made nine appearances and scored just once.

Riordan ended the 2011/12 season with St. Johnstone, having signed for the club in March on a short-term deal. In May, Riordan again found himself in trouble with the law following an alleged confrontation with door staff at an Edinburgh nightclub. Four appearances and zero goals, and that off-field incident, left the club and player happy to part ways. Riordan’s career is dominated by a certain idiosyncrasy which is not uncommon in the world of football: he has never seemed entirely comfortable or performed with such distinction when wearing a shirt other than that of the green and white of Hibs.

Failure to establish himself as a regular Scotland international stems largely from his style of play: he is lazy and sulks and has a slender frame, as well as off-field issues. This may be another reason why clubs are unwilling to offer a contract to him, given the nature and history of the style of football played in Scotland. Yet, at Hibs, his cultured left foot and natural goal-scoring prowess rendered these flaws permissive.

Riordan’s natural ability should never be doubted. However, it is his off-field behaviour, style of play, and patchy record away from Easter Road which are deterring potential clubs.

At the age of 29 the next move he makes will be a crucial one. Alleged rejection of an approach by Rangers over the summer suggests that Riordan is not moved entirely by financial gain and is still hungry to play at the highest level he can. Nonetheless, this does not imply that Riordan will settle for a wage below what he considers himself worthy of – which is another stumbling block to agreeing a deal with a new club.

If a suitor can find the funds, coax Riordan back to fitness, manage his off-field behaviour, and accommodate his style of play, they will be rewarded with the thing Riordan provides best: goals – scored and assisted.

The talents of Derek Riordan may be discarded by those who claim that he is a “wasted talent;” – and there may be some credence to that accusation – however, the majority of Hibs fans will profess him to be as gifted a player as any other they have seen grace the turf at Easter Road.

Written by Steven Ballantyne


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