Ruari Ellis: call-ups and contracts

“What are you on about” was the response of Under-18s academy player Ruari Ellis when his phone started buzzing with congratulatory messages following a remarkable Scotland call-up in February.

It has been a whirlwind period for the 16-year-old since he joined from Motherwell in the summer. A significant positional change, new contract and untimely ligament injury later, the youngster is now reflecting on a formidable start the year which saw him become a Scotland youth international.

Speaking about the surprise surrounding his call-up to Brian McLaughlin’s Scotland Under-17s squad for a camp in Pinatar, Ellis said: “It came a bit out of the blue as it was the first time I had been asked to join any of the national training camps.”

“One morning, I started to receive messages of congratulations and I thought ‘what are you on about?’. My mates had obviously spotted it on Twitter or Instagram, so I jumped straight onto my emails and found confirmation that I had been called-up.”

“The initial feeling was shock!”

Normally, there would be absolutely no surprise in one of Craig Clark’s thriving Under-18s squad receiving deserved recognition for an impressive season. However, Ellis reveals that the thought of being called up as a national team defender is an achievement that he wouldn’t have dreamt of before signing last year.

“I only moved into the centre-back position very recently. Clarkie had one look at me when I signed as a central midfielder and decided that wasn’t going to work. He moved me back to centre-half before we went to Stoke for pre-season, and I just clicked with the position then; I’ve never looked back.”

“I’ve been playing there for six months and I’ve obviously got a Scotland call-up off the back of it. I knew that I was doing well in the new position, but I didn’t realise that I was doing that well.”

Ellis revealed that his initial feeling of shock was accompanied by a few nerves as he began to contemplate the magnitude of his call-up ahead of the trip to Spain: “A bit of nerves kicked in when I started to think about what would be expected of me and the reception I would get from the lads.

“The rest of the squad had all been picked before and gone to different tournaments, so they were quite a tight group. I was a bit daunting joining up for the first time, but they were all top-class with me and I received a really warm welcome.

“The advice of Clarkie and Jacko (Paul Di Giacomo) was invaluable before I left. Their message was ‘just do what you do, stay grounded and don’t change for anyone else’.”

The words of wisdom from academy coaches clearly had the desired effect as Ellis quickly settled into the national team environment, being rewarded with priceless minutes on the park: “We had four centre backs – two pairings – so I played a couple of games. I got 90 minutes in the 4-4 draw with Switzerland and 45 minutes in the 7-0 win against them a few days later.”

“The first match was a couple of hours away and the kick-off time was changed when we were on the bus. I ended up getting a 15-minute warm up which was an unexpected introduction to international football!”

An untimely injury has allowed Ellis the time to look back on a precious experience that he has since brought back to East Ayrshire. Highlighting how Kilmarnock’s set-up enabled him to slot into a demanding environment, he commented: “Standards around the camp were very high but that’s something I’m more than used to with the club academy. The attention to detail was fascinating. For example, even the bibs had to be folded a certain way after each drill; things like that are what I’ve taken away from the experience.

“Playing against internationals is something that I’ll never forget. The Switzerland striker was a big strong player, but I feel like I’ve been well prepared to compete against this level of opponent: Bobby (Wales) is always a challenge in training, and I played against Ben Doak last season when he was absolutely flying.

“I felt really high on confidence coming back to the club, until I suffered an ankle injury in our match literally a few days later.”

“It’s frustrating that I’ll now miss the European Championship qualifiers next month, but that’s football and I’ll come back with the drive to work myself into more Scotland squads.”

A move into the backline completed Ellis’ transition down the park, having originally started out as a striker. While agreeing that occupying various positions has helped to sculpt a diverse range of attributes, he feels that his permanent home is in the heart of defence.

“I would 100% consider myself a centre-back now. On international duty, the tempo was slower than what I anticipated and gave you more time to think on the ball, which probably suits me as a player.”

“I’m quite composed and like passing out from the back. I would say that I tend to base my game on someone like Raphaël Varane.”

“I also study the likes of Lisandro Martinez and Virgil van Dijk, ballplaying players. I like seeing the game in front of me, playing longer passes and switching the play. When I was away with Scotland, I probably didn’t get to do that as much; it was more about playing short passes in the gaps.”

Recovering from an injury, which is likely to keep him sidelined for the next 4-6 weeks, is clearly the short-term goal for the youth international, but a newly signed two-and-a-half-year contract has enabled Ellis to set ambitions for the next stage of his development. For the time being, those aspirations revolve around continuing to soak up experience from those around him at the club.

“The senior players at the club have been really good to me, especially when I’ve been in the physio room. Jack Sanders has been very supportive, particularly during reserve matchdays. He’s someone that I can look up to as he gives you lots of information and feedback when you’re playing.”

“On a coaching level, Clarkie and Burkey have honestly been brilliant with me. They’re always there whenever I need to speak to them and the advice that they give is invaluable. I’ve played for clubs with very high standards, but they’ve taken that to another level.”

Supporters are encouraged to follow the Kilmarnock Youth Academy Twitter channel for updates surrounding the Under-18s squad.