STUART McCall has stated that he needs to make “four or five” more new signings after the Motherwell manager gave up hope of striker Michael Higdon and full-back Tom Hateley returning to Fir Park.
As the club’s squad returned for pre-season training yesterday McCall described both that duo and fellow free agent James McFadden as “ex-players” but was “not sure” if there is a possibility the Scotland internationalist, absent for the first sessions, could yet agree a new deal with the Lanarkshire club. If he does not then last season’s top flight runners-up will have lost seven of their first-choice XI at the end of the the close of the campaign.
Darren Randolph, Nicky Law, Henrik Ojamaa and Chris Humphrey all also moved on in the close season.
The recruitment of Ross County duo Paul Lawson and Iain Vigurs will fill two of the many gaps that have opened up in McCall’s senior squad. Plugging two more could be John Sutton – the striker made redundant by Hearts yesterday and expected to accept a second tour of duty at Fir Park – and former Celtic captain Stephen McManus, unattached after his release by Middlesbrough and also reputedly wanted by Hibernian.
McCall was circumspect on the subject of any additions, especially Faroe Islands international goalkeeper Gunnar Neilson, but did confirm the Sutton interest. He said: “I think there has been some discussions, but I’m just back and I’m not sure about that one.
“Obviously John is a player we know well from before. Can you come back a second time? Who knows. It worked for me at Bradford when I won promotion and then fell off a car. I’m pleased with the two boys I brought in and that’s as much as I can say.”
The Motherwell manager insisted he wasn’t being “cloak and dagger” in being non-committal over McFadden, consistently linked with Celtic. “He he might turn up, be out in front for running and we could sign him. As far as I’m aware, he’s still mulling over options. He wants to make a decision for a decent pre-season. We’d love it to be here and, while we’ve not given up on it, I can’t give you an answer either way,” said McCall, who will look for such an answer by the start of next week.
The Fir Park manager had only good things to say about Higdon and Hateley. “I spoke with Michael and I believe he can double his money now. He gave us two great years of service. People doubted it when he came in but he was terrific for us. He and Tommo will have something sorted down south. All the guys who have left have improved as players. I think Motherwell has been a good place for players to come and that remains the case. I inherited the likes of Humphrey and Randolph and they improved and I brought in Law and Higdon and they improved as well.”
Rebuilding a team that has been reduced to its foundations is McCall’s toughest challenge in his three years at the helm, he accepts. However, it is not a challenge that causes him to question whether he was right to reject the offer that came his way from Sheffield United in the summer.
“We lost a few players last summer but we’ve lost more this year. But most managers these days will tell you that the biggest part of their job is recruitment,” said the Motherwell manager, who hopes to recruit a “quickie” after losing the pace of Humphrey and Ojamaa. “It will be difficult but I made the decision to stay here and I’m more than happy with that.
“We still have a strong nucleus and we have a really good dressing room, which is important. Everyone comes into work with a smile on their faces.
“I’m pleased to have brought Iain Vigurs and Paul Lawson in because I thought they were excellent for Ross County last season. Once we’ve got the new boys in, it’s all about getting the best out of them and, over the last five or six years, Motherwell have managed to do that. We haven’t got too many new faces at the moment but we want to bring in players of the highest quality possible and, if that means having to wait for a few weeks, then so be it.
“It’s also the case that we’ve lost good players before – Steve Jennings, Tim Clancy and Stephen Craigan last year – and bounced back. Our last game was five-and-a-half weeks ago and our first European tie is in five weeks so there is plenty of time to get people in and bed them down.
“Last year we didn’t go down the loan route with English clubs but we might do that with one or two players.
“I also intend to give some of our youngsters a crack at it early on. Craig Moore went on loan to Cowdenbeath last season and scored a few goals for them, while another striker, Lee Irwin, has done well with Scotland under-19s. But there’s no panic – we won’t be joining a seven-a-side league.”