There are 105 Scottish Premiership players currently sitting on expiring contracts. Some are sure to stay, others will definitely go, but which ones fall somewhere in the middle? Here, Craig Fowler picks the single most interesting expiring contract from each of the top flight clubs, while also looking at a few others with their futures up in the air.
Aberdeen: Niall McGinn
Over the course of his Aberdeen career, McGinn’s trajectory has slipped downwards. Once viewed as their most valuable player – arguably their only great player at the tail end of the Craig Brown era - he’s recently been in and out of the starting line-up. He’s definitely behind Jonny Hayes in the pecking order, and this season he’s had to combat James Maddison. If the Norwich player returns south in January, McGinn will solidify his place in the starting XI once more, but with his career stagnating in the north east, don’t be surprised if Aberdeen cut ties.
The Dons will likely say goodbye to Ryan Jack. They previously made the midfielder captain in, what has presumed to be, a bid to keep him happy. However, he’s struggled with injury and inconsistent form since then and, if he goes, few tears will be shed. Andrew Considine turns 30 before the end of the season and, having played at Aberdeen his entire career and has been in good form, he’ll likely sign a new deal. He may even get the chance to start at his natural position consistently if Ash Taylor goes. Dominating at times, unreliable at others; Aberdeen might try to keep the player around, but this may be an experiment worth ending. And, unless he can get back to anywhere near his 2013/14 form, it’s likely we’ll soon see the last of Peter Pawlett in a red shirt.
Celtic: Mikael Lustig
Celtic will be looking to upgrade in the transfer market as they bid to make a bigger dent on the continent next term. That’s a difficult thing to do when everyone is playing so well, so Lustig could represent an easy option as they can let him walk and bring in someone else. On the other hand, they signed Cristian Gamboa with the view to him bettering Lustig and claiming the right-back role, which has not even come close to happening. He’s a Swedish international, a good servant and it might be too much of a gamble to sign a definite upgrade in Celtic’s £1-5m market. Expect him to stay.
Elsewhere, there’s a few that will be expected to go. Kris Commons is fast becoming a figment of people’s imaginations, while Efe Ambrose is surely (surely!) destined to finally exit Glasgow’s East End. Young defender Eoghan O’Connell will likely interest a few Scottish clubs. The Irish centre-back has been solid for Celtic when given a chance but hasn’t featured much under Brendan Rodgers. Emilio Izaguirre is reportedly happy to play the back-up role, and seeing as Celtic wouldn’t want to sign anyone to upset or potentially stunt the growth of Kieran Tierney, expect the Honduran to stay.
Dundee: Kevin Gomis
Signing the former Nice defender looked like something of a coup when the deal was completed and, though he’s been up and down in terms of form, it’s largely been a success. It will be interesting to see what happens when club captain James McPake returns to the fold, as he’ll likely command a place in the starting XI. With Darren O’Dea also assured of a spot in the back-line it leaves one centre-back position open, and that’s assuming Paul Hartley sticks with a 3-5-2 formation. Given his pedigree, Gomis may be a little expensive to keep around long-term, even if fans may wish to see him do so.
If Gomis doesn’t go then definitely expect Kostadin Gadzhalov to exit. The Bulgarian has emerged as the more dependable option to Julen Etxabeguren in recent weeks, but with the Spaniard having more time on his deal, and the crowded situation in the centre-back corps, someone’s got to go. At the other end, Marcus Haber has worked out surprisingly well for a panic buy in October. The Canadian provides Dundee with a valuable out-ball, as his hold-up play drags the team up the park. It’ll be interesting to see whether Dundee look to keep him around, or try to recruit someone of a similar mould who’s more of a proven scorer.
Hamilton: Darian MacKinnon
The 31-year-old is in the form of his life and has been Hamilton’s best player so far this season. Which begs the question of why a deal hasn’t been done already. Is it his age? It is his temperament? Will it depend on which league Hamilton are in? Or does the player, who played in the Juniors until he was 27, want to keep his options open for a potential final payday before he retires? Hamilton’s identity is built around being combative in the centre of the park and MacKinnon is the personal embodiment of such an approach.
The knee injury suffered by Jesus Garcia Tena naturally puts his future in doubt. At the opposite end, Hamilton have struggled to find a menacing hitman, which may be the saving grace for Alex D’Acol, who is not the most potent of attackers but seems happy in Hamilton. The emphasis will be on Gramoz Kurtaj and Eamonn Brophy to add some consistency to their game before the summer, while Martin Canning may extend his playing career by another 12 months in a ‘break in case of emergency’ situation - if he’s still manager.
Hearts: Igor Rossi
The Brazilian is Hearts’ best defender in the traditional sense of the word. He doesn’t have the technical ability of a John Souttar, but he’s the security blanket putting anxious fans at ease whenever Hearts are under considerable pressure. Recently he expressed a desire to stay, though the club have been surprisingly slow to get things sorted. He may not have the potential of his centre-back partner, but at 27 he still represents a monetary asset and it would be strange if they let him walk.
Callum Paterson and Jordan McGhee are as good as gone at the end of the campaign, if not sooner. Alim Ozturk will likely follow them out of the door having been stripped of the captaincy and omitted from the matchday squad for the recent victories against Motherwell and Rangers, though the arrival of Ian Cathro could represent a fresh start for the popular defender. Hearts and Sam Nicholson have both revealed they are in discussions over a new deal, but they’d better hurry before the January window opens and other clubs can offer a pre-contract. Nicholson’s current deputy, Robbie Muirhead, will earn a new deal if he’s able to keep up his recent displays.
Inverness CT: Josh Meekings
The centre-back has been surprisingly candid on his future, saying he’s unsure whether he wants to remain in the Highland capital and show loyalty to the club, or return down south to be closer to his family. It’s a decision he’ll make closer to the end of the season. Caley Thistle fans would love to see him remain, even if he hasn’t enjoyed the best of campaigns. Richie Foran’s side have leaked goals at an alarming rate, with the tactical approach often leaving the defence exposed, as Foran has gone for a more expansive approach than his predecessors. The back four used to have the protection of Ross Draper and Greg Tansey patrolling in front of them. Now it’s Iain Vigurs and a out-of-sorts Tansey doing the screening, which is a major drop-off in terms of defensive production.
As for Tansey, it’s more than likely he’ll be leaving. His form has dipped dramatically since his January move to Aberdeen fell through, leaving many fans to question his desire. Kevin McNaughton will be lucky to stay on further having suffered a season-ending injury just a couple of months into his one-year deal.
Kilmarnock: Gary Dicker
Kilmarnock’s gameplan in the transfer market has been to sign them young, raw and cheap. Dicker doesn’t fit in any of those categories. But, at the same time, you cannot have a squad full of under-23s. There needs to be a balance and, after a slow start to the campaign, the Irish midfielder has really emerged as a leader in the centre of the park over recent weeks. While the energetic, exuberant youngsters do the work, Dicker plays the role of supervisor in front of the defence. It will largely be up to Dicker, who’s played down south for almost his entire career, whether he wants to remain in Scotland.
The rest of Kilmarnock’s out-of-contract talents are those signed last summer. Most will likely to be heading out of the door having failed to make much of an impact, including Joshua Webb, Jamie Cobain and Martin Smith. Jordan Jones is one rough stone who could be polished into a gem. Lee Clark has been hesitant to trust the winger at times due to his defensive liabilities, but he’s a tricky, direct and difficult-to-handle winger when he gets on the ball. Up front, Nathan Tyson has been solid but at age 34 it’s unlikely Killie will move to tie him up to a longer contract, especially as he’s yet to score.
Motherwell: Scott McDonald
He’ll be 34 a month into next season and there’s always a strong possibility an older player will be let go to make way for a fresh face. However, it’s hard to imagine McDonald moving away from Fir Park unless he gets a substantially better offer elsewhere. In Scotland, his wages will be topped up by media appearances for BT Sport and BBC Scotland, thereby lessening the attraction of a move to England, not to mention the long-standing affinity he has with Motherwell. On the park he’s still doing the business. Despite his age he does a power of work, and Louis Moult tends to play better when paired with the Aussie.
Lionel Ainsworth had a nomadic existence as a professional footballer prior to his arrival at Fir Park in 2013. It’s not a life he wants to return to and the ball appears to be firmly in the club’s court on whether he stays. He’s been used more from the bench by Mark McGhee compared with his usual spot in the starting XI under Ian Baraclough and Stuart McCall. But the fans love him and he does possess the kind of skills capable of changing a game, so he could yet win a new deal. Club legend Keith Lasley’s contract is due to expire and, due to his status, he’ll probably be allowed to decide his own future. The same will not be true of goalkeepers Craig Samson and Dean Brill. Neither are elite level stoppers in the Ladbrokes Premiership and Motherwell will likely cut their cloth by releasing one of them. Which one depends on who has the starting job come the end of the season.
Partick Thistle: David Amoo
Underwhelming over his initial half-season, everything suddenly clicked into place for Amoo after January and he ended the last campaign as an important weapon in Thistle’s attacking arsenal. As a result, this was expected to be the season where he hit the ground running, but it’s really not worked out like that. He’s shown flashes, but Thistle may view him as a typically inconsistent winger and would be reticent to offer more than a one-year extension on similar or reduced terms.
Sean Welsh spent more time on the treatment table than the park during his early career in Maryhill, but he’s managed to prove his fitness over the past 18 months. Last term he appeared 36 times, a total he’s already halfway to matching this campaign. When fit he’s a mainstay in Alan Archibald’s squad, so expect him to stay. The same goes for Christie Elliott, who’s versatility is a useful tool. Ziggy Gordon signed as a stop-gap on the way to better things, but unless he sorts out his form he’ll be lucky to get a contract offer from Thistle with first-choice right-back Mustapha Dumbuya due back before the end of the season.
Rangers: Clint Hill
Pro: He’s the most reliable Rangers defender by some distance and the team defend better as a whole when he’s in the team. Con: he’ll turn 39 next season. Danny Wilson and Rob Kiernan have looked dependable at the top flight level when Hill is playing beside them, but they barely look Championship level when he’s out of action. If Rangers let Hill go, they’ll likely have to sign two centre-backs to replace the production, unless they manage to recruit a similar mentor-type next summer. When pressure is on you to win from the start, as it will be with Rangers in 2017/18, it’s not ideal to knit together a brand new defence. Ideally, you’d want a smooth transition from one unit to the next. Therefore, Hill may get another one-year deal.
Kenny Miller is another interesting conundrum. Like Hill his form has been great, and the only downside is that he turns 37 later this month. Another ageing player with a short deal is Philippe Senderos. The centre-back will surely exit without the offer of an extension.
Ross County: Paul Quinn
He’s an unfashionable centre-back coming to the end of his career. He’s also club captain. Typically, he’d be a shoo-in for a new contract. However, Ross County have been porous at the back since he returned from Aberdeen. A lot of that is not Quinn’s fault. They play in a 4-4-2 formation that doesn’t provide much protection for the centre backs and, in Andrew Davies, he has a playing partner very similar to him. Both struggle whenever play goes behind them as they lack pace. County have looked stronger in defence in recent weeks without him, which would normally cast doubts about his future, but then Davies is expected to leave in the summer. Is a Quinn-Jay McEveley pairing the partnership of the future? There’s a lot to sort out here for Jim McIntyre and co.
If he can stay fit, County would love to keep Chris Burke around longer, even if he has recently turned 33. The system relies heavily on the wide players and Burke’s play has been key in what has otherwise been a struggling side this season. Davies, as mentioned, will probably leave with his family keen to return south. Erik Cikos could stick around but he’ll have to get back in the team first. Ryan Dow will, plainly, just have to start playing better. There is an interesting decision to be made up front with both Alex Schalk and Craig Curran sitting on expiring deals. Neither seems capable of cementing a starting job alongside Liam Boyce, and yet both are dependable talents at this level, especially Curran, who seems to bring out the best in Boyce. Then there’s Kenny van der Weg, Jonathan Franks and Martin Woods. As I said, there’s a lot for Jim McIntyre and co to sort out.
St Johnstone: Danny Swanson
Danny Swanson is sheer class. He’s the bit of magic which propels St Johnstone from also-rans into a team that has aspirations of pushing Aberdeen, Hearts and Rangers for second place. He’s played his best football in two spells at McDiarmid Park, so it may be in his interests to remain. However, Swanson has spoken of how his exit from Hearts gave him a wake-up call. He changed his dietary and training regiments, and it’s made him a much better player. For that reason, he may fancy another crack at England.
Aside from Swanson, there are many others in the St Johnstone first-team on expiring contracts. David Wotherspoon is a Perth lad and is more of a squad player than a star, so he should stick around. The same goes for Chris Millar and Tam Scobbie. Steven MacLean falls into the same old-but-quality category as Kenny Miller, and there’s no proven striker ready to fill his boots. Liam Craig tried life away from Perth once before and it did not go well, while the humble environments are also getting the best out of Richard Foster. Joe Shaughnessy is still developing and may not have a big enough profile yet to be tempted by England’s riches, and youngster Liam Gordon’s future may depend on what happens with Scobbie and Shaughnessy. Don’t be surprised if most, if not all, of them stay. Those who could go include Alan Mannus. He’s a great goalkeeper but it appears Saints are committed to developing Zander Clark and it’s doubtful Mannus, even if he is 34, is ready to play the role of mentor. Brian Easton is consistently great at left-back and, seeing as he’s entering his prime years, may want another crack at England.