Celtic are content to take their time, Neil Lennon is looking to recruit some familiar faces, and Hamilton Accies are in an unusual position, writes Craig Fowler
Celtic will not be rushed
Following last year’s unbeaten season and the promise of another extended excursion in the Champions League, Celtic fans were understandably excited over the prospect of several big-money signings arriving at the club this summer. Instead, only Olivier Ntcham could be classed as such to this point, with the reigning champions going for the patient approach rather than throwing their money about.
They are doing so with good reason. With the financial gulf between England and Scotland continuing to rise, it’s increasingly difficult to go out and procure talents you know are going to be ready to slot in. Instead of departures and arrivals passing each other in the night, upsetting the equilibrium of the squad, Rodgers has sought to keep the core of last year’s team together, add a couple of new pieces and look to claim another Champions League place. He’s doing that with good reason. This was a historically great Scottish league side that didn’t disgrace itself in a group with Barcelona (save one game), Manchester City and Borussia Monchengladbach.
There’s also the wrinkle of some better players becoming available when the qualifiers are over, as Celtic can hover up talent from clubs of similar stature in the European game who can no longer give their players Champions League football.
Which brings us on to the other side of this coin. There has been interest in at least four of Celtic’s first-team players, most notably Moussa Dembele and Stuart Armstrong. Throughout football, we see teams rise above expectations in one season, only to have their talent picked off by the waiting vultures. Celtic, to their credit, have remained steadfast. No one is going anywhere until the qualifiers are done and dusted.
Cycles can be renewed
There was a time at the beginning of the summer where Pedro Caixinha’s insistence that Aberdeen were coming to the end of a “cycle” looked prescient. McGinn was on his way out, Hayes was the subject of a bid from Celtic, and Derek McInnes was meeting with Sunderland over the vacant manager’s job. Everything the club had built over recent seasons looked in danger of crashing down, and Caixinha must have been rubbing his hands in glee at the prospect of not having to worry about the Dons next season.
McInnes, much to the surprise of everyone in Scottish football, decided to go nowhere. As soon as that particular decision was made, Aberdeen’s prospects for the upcoming campaign looked immediately brighter, and so it has proved.
Whether they are as a strong as they were last season is up for debate, but by bringing Ryan Christie back to Pittodrie and adding Greg Stewart and Gary Mackay-Steven, they’ve replaced significant player departures with a competency no-one would have expected.
Caixinha could well be made to eat his own words.
Neil Lennon is trying to put the band back together
Having recruited Efe Ambrose on a permanent deal, the Hibs boss has gone after two more ex-Celtic heroes in the shape of Anthony Stokes and Kris Commons. They would be high profile signings, the type that get the blood pumping if you’re a supporter, but each must be classed as a gamble. Ambrose’s error-prone tendencies could re-emerge upon his return to the top flight, while Stokes hasn’t played anywhere near his best since 2014 - including a stint in the Scottish Championship with Hibs (Scottish Cup final apart) - and Kris Commons will soon turn 34 years of age.
Then again, for all three players, Neil Lennon is the boss who arguably got the best out of them. Ambrose and Stokes still have plenty left in their career and a lot to prove, while Commons insists he won’t be signing for anyone unless he knows he can rediscover some of his past form. And with aspirations of getting into the top three, it would be a great coup for Hibs to sign three players with recent experience of winning the Ladbrokes Premiership crown.
Hamilton shop in a market of their own
At the time of writing, Hamilton have signed only two players: goalkeeper Ryan Fulton and defender Xavier Tomas. Having lost two of the clubs’ three first-team strikers last season, Alex D’Acol and Eamonn Brophy, fans are getting understandably nervous at the prospect of going into the next campaign with Rakish Bingham as the only recognised striker.
With eight players departing, the situation looks pretty dire with the season just around the corner. However, with the exception of the striker issue, Hamilton may feel fairly content with what else they have. The likes of Gramoz Kurtaj, Jesus Garcia Tena and Danny Seaborne may all have been regular starters at one point, but they weren’t as last season drew to a close thanks to a mixture of mid-season signings (Alex Gogić and Giannis Skondras) and youth-team graduates (Scott McMann and Greg Docherty) stepping up to the mark.
The loss of Michael Devlin to another long-term injury will sting, but on paper the signing of Tomas (whom they paid money for) addresses such a need, while Fulton will provide competition for places with the perfectly adequate Gary Woods following the conclusion of Remi Matthews’ loan.
As Martin Canning has put it himself, Hamilton almost have to shop in their own special market. They have the lowest budget in the top flight by far, so cannot compete with their immediate rivals for talent. They could look lower and flex their top flight muscles against Championship sides in potential bidding wars, but why should they settle for players who may not be good enough for the top flight?
Reinvention is the order of the day
There are going to be a number of top flight clubs who will look almost unrecognisable from their preferred starting XIs of last season. We’re not yet in August and four separate top flight side have recruited eight or more players, including Motherwell who have been the busiest with ten new arrivals. That’s not even taking into consideration the major rebuilding work carried out by both Aberdeen and Hearts, who’ve each recruited six new players and show little sign of finishing their shopping spree before the close of the transfer window.
In fairness to each of the clubs, they’ve been pushed into such major rebuilds, either through the exit of several first-team stars or the need for urgent surgery following disastrous 2016/17 campaigns.
Ian Cathro and Pedro Caixinha have completely overhauled their respective squads in the hope of creating a competitive side worthy of keeping them in a job, while Derek McInnes had to act fast after losing talismanic duo Niall McGinn and Jonny Hayes in a matter of weeks.
Lee McCulloch at Kilmarnock has been forced into a building the side in his own image after several of Lee Clark’s short-term deals and loan contracts expired, while Stephen Robinson has tried to reinvent a more youthful looking Motherwell side following the departure of veteran campaigners Stephen Pearson and Scott McDonald, and retirement of club captain Keith Lasley.
Meanwhile, over at Dundee, Neil McCann has carried out a bit fair of wheeling and dealing. Despite having most of last season’s underperformers under contract for another year, he’s managed to send a few players on their way, freeing up room to make eight signings to this point.