The last year could have been very different for Craig Wighton had Dundee FC not intervened when he joined the club aged 11.
Wighton is leading the line for Scotland at the UEFA European Under-17 Championship in Malta, having already been in the spotlight this season. He made his debut for Dundee in the Scottish second tier back in October, less than five months after turning 16, and went on to rack up 13 league appearances, scoring twice in the process. He also found the net four times in Scotland's qualifying campaign, so it would be easy to assume he has always been at home in front of goal.
"It doesn't really come naturally to me and I've worked on it quite a bit," he told UEFA.com. "I didn't play as a striker when I was younger – I played out wide more as a boy. When I was a winger, I scored a lot of goals, and I think Dundee probably recognised that. They said that they saw me as a striker when I joined, and now I work on it every day.
"Pace is definitely one of the strong points in my game. Ever since I've played through the middle I've enjoyed it and done alright. I like to get in behind the defenders. I'm not the best in the air, so I like the ball at my feet in order to use my pace as much as I can. When I was younger, I used to want to be like Fernando Torres when he was at Liverpool."
Wighton is clearly undergoing a fine footballing education, citing national team manager Scot Gemmill and Dundee boss Paul Hartley as "big influences who I learn from every day". Scotland were tipped by many as dark horses for this tournament, and their wiry striker feels they failed to do themselves justice in Friday's 2-0 defeat by Portugal.
"Portugal are a really good side but we underperformed as well," he said. "Saying that, we were up against a top European side. I think that with it being on television and everything like that, maybe everyone got a bit caught up in that and got a bit nervous.
Playing in the second league in Scotland is very physical, but Portugal were technically a lot better than I'm used to."
Though Wighton hopes they will remain in Malta for the duration, it is difficult for him not to look ahead to next season, when Dundee return to the Scottish Premier League. That means a renewal of their derby against (extremely) nearby neighbours Dundee United FC.
"The stadiums are only about 100 metres apart and it's a big rivalry," said Wighton. "I've never played in a senior derby but I've played in about seven or eight at youth level and not lost yet. Hopefully I'll keep that going next season. Most of our lads are from Dundee so it's always a big occasion and a great experience."
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