As the football season enters its climactic stage, not only do managers face the pressure of achieving immediate results but they must also negotiate the uncertainty of preparing their club for what lies around the corner.
With contracts running down and players on the books who have yet to produce, several teams face drastic surgery in order to sculpt outfits that are capable of competing in a new campaign.
We take a look at four Scottish clubs in need of a summer rebuilding project:
Pedro Caixinha’s opening seven matches at the Ibrox club have been mired with inconsistency. Rangers have amassed just 11 points from a possible 18 in the Scottish Premiership and the manager has not selected the same starting 11 in consecutive games. A late blitz at Pittodrie suggested there might be reason to be hopeful but the manner in which the club have failed to compete physically and tactically with bitter rivals Celtic is proving a cause for concern.
Under Mark Warburton, the club handed out long term deals to a number of players who have simply failed to set the heather alight. Matt Crooks, Joe Dodoo, Andy Halliday, Jason Holt, Michael O’Halloran and Jordan Rossiter all have a remaining three years on their contract, while Harry Forrester and Joe Garner are signed until 2019. The promise shown by the likes of Emerson Hyndman and Jon Toral will act as little solace, given that the pair look set to return to their parent clubs and Clint Hill, arguably the team’s most consistent performer at the age of 38, is yet to decide his future.
The need for a clear out at Rangers is evident but Caixinha could find his hands tied by the reckless recruitment policy of his predecessor. The team need a striker to supplement an ageing Kenny Miller, while they might have to cash in on the energy and creative drive of Barrie McKay if the winger refuses to extend his contact.
The dilemmas that face Caixinha are countless and his dealings in the summer could prove pivotal in placing Rangers on a more positive trajectory next season.
Head coach Ian Cathro was forced to show his hand in the January transfer window, bringing in no less than nine players. The need to reinforce a fragile side cannot be doubted but the recruits have not had the desired impact. Based just on their last six matches, the club would lie 10th in the league and on the pitch much has been made of a lack of playing identity. Off the pitch, or in the stands rather, the responsibility of Craig Levein as director of football has come under scrutiny.
Putting structural issues to one side, however, Cathro’s movements in the summer could have a significant say in how much time supporters will afford him before voicing their impatience. Hearts will almost certainly lose Callum Patterson as his contract runs down, while decisions will have to be made over the contributions of Tasos Avlonitis, Lennard Sowah and Alexandro Tziolis come June. The goals conceded against Partick Thistle on Saturday characterised the defensive woes crippling Hearts. The first was an unmarked header from close range by Kris Doolan, while the second saw Chris Erskine’s delicate through ball split open Prince Buaben, Krystian Nowak and Liam Smith without any real objection.
The reality facing the Tynecastle side is that much of the quality of player brought in so far has been substandard. The likes of Avlonitis, Tziolis and Malaury Martin have not adapted to the tempo of the Scottish game while Sowah, despite being athletic, has a severely limited technical ability. Occasional glimmers of hope have surfaced through Jamie Walker, a direct and skilful attacking threat, while Isma Goncalves has shown that he is a likely improvement on the lumbersome Bjorn Johnsen.
Cathro might be better served by adopting a less adventurous summer transfer policy that focuses more on the tried and tested rather than the unknown.
The need for the Fir Park club to clean the gutters was apparent following the team’s thrashing at the hands of Aberdeen and Dundee respectively. Mark McGhee left successor Stephen Robinson with a team that has no real longevity and seemed to be shaped on a year-by-year basis.
Five players of the squad named for Saturday’s defeat to Dundee are facing the exit door as their contracts run down. Starters Craig Samson, Keith Lasley and Scott McDonald have been reliable performers for Motherwell in recent times but Robinson could take the opportunity to blood younger players into the side with all three comfortably into their 30s. Steven Hammell joins that group at the ripe age of 35 but the fullback has a year left on his current contract.
Motherwell’s cobbled together side has struggled to compete this season amidst a spate of first team injuries. The team is arguably overly reliant on the goalscoring prowess of Louis Moult and the mercurial talent of Chris Cadden to inject some life. However, if the manager is able to hold on to the pair and retain McDonald and Samson, along with the return of Richard Tait from injury, it would provide the club with a promising foundation to build upon. Admittedly, Robinson’s relative inexperience in management and lack of success at Oldham Athletic provides no guarantee that a significant influx of new players would produce improved results next season, and if the team get relegated the rebuild could prove an overhaul rather than a few minor tweaks.
While Dundee United supporters still have hope that they will be watching top flight football next season, they will likely concede that Ray McKinnon’s debut season managing the club has been somewhat of a disappointment. Following a bright start, the Tannadice club’s challenge to Hibs tailed off significantly to the point that they now sit behind Falkirk in the league.
With 12 players out of contract in the summer, Tony Andreu set to return to Norwich, and the unlikelihood of them navigating six playoff matches successfully, McKinnon’s second season at the club becomes crucial. Failing to get out of the Scottish Championship for a second consecutive season would likely deserve a change at the helm.
Andreu’s 13 goals and three assists has endeared the Frenchman to the support, therefore replacing the creative midfielder is imperative. The former Hamilton man has developed an understanding with Simon Murray and Thomas Mikkelsen, proving to be excellent foil for whichever striker spearheads the attack. McKinnon is also faced with the decision of extending the contracts of the aforementioned Murray and Mikkelsen. That said, it is doubtful whether the pair are of the required quality for a team that has ambitions of returning to the Premiership and competing with similar sized clubs.
Experienced water carrier Willo Flood has been vital in restoring stability to the Dundee United midfield following their relegation, and it is likely that a minimum of a one-year extension will be handed to the Irishman. A concern for McKinnon will be that Dundee United have conceded the most goals out of the top four sides, and addressing this issue once the transfer window reopens will be a priority, while simultaneously making decisions over the future of Paul Dixon and veteran Sean Dillon.