THE World Cup held our interest, the Commonwealth Games proved a pleasant distraction, but finally we welcome back our one true love with the beginning of the Scottish league season.
The opening fixture of every division takes place tomorrow, and to give our readers that little extra adrenaline boost I’ve looked back over the previous month in the transfer market and selected the more interesting signings to examine in closer detail.
Yesterday we had the top five from the Scottish Championship, and tomorrow we’ll have four signings from League One and Two. But in the meantime, let’s look at what the top flight clubs have been up to during the past four weeks.
David Goodwillie to Aberdeen
Goodwillie’s drop off has been quite astounding. It’s not just that he went to England and failed. There are several Scottish players through history we could say that about. It’s that he then came back and looked a shadow of the striker who commanded a £2 million transfer fee. It leaves people with a question worth asking: was Goodwillie ever that good to begin with?
The striker has only managed double figures in the league goalscoring charts once in his career so far. For someone who is regarded as a goalscorer that is an alarming statistic. There is obviously more to his game - pace, power, technique – but the regularity with which he found the back of the net for 18 months was what enabled him to stand out from the pack.
What he does represent is a gamble worth taking. Aberdeen have kept every valuable first team member from the side that went within a minute of finishing second last year. Motherwell, at least on paper, look weaker and will find it tough to rack up 70 points again. Aberdeen are the favourites for second without Goodwillie, so they may as well take a punt and see if he can make them even stronger. Particularly as this is only a one-year deal.
If he can still perform then he’ll give a slightly different option to Adam Rooney. The January signing struggled in a few home games where teams sat in and dared Aberdeen to play through them. Rooney likes the ball in front of him, and while Goodwillie is similar in that regard, at least the new addition has the ability to take the ball into feet around the penalty area and turn his man before getting a shot away. They might have been better off getting a more traditional target man for the way they play, and Kris Boyd would have been perfect in that regard, but Goodwillie was a good back-up plan.
Jo Inge Berget to Celtic
Any positivity toward this signing was somewhat eroded by his poor performance in the trip to Warsaw last week. It’s unfair to judge a player on one match, particularly as he’d barely had any time with the squad and will be seriously lacking match sharpness having sat in the stands at Cardiff for the second half of last season. He represents any new system that manager Ronny Deila may want to implement - the two have worked together before - and it’s understandable there have been some teething problems thus far.
Ignoring last week, he’s an ok signing if a little on the unimaginative side. The greatest compliment Deila gave him was a non-committal observation about his skill and versatility. The new boss also talked about him bringing “something different” without really going into much detail about what he envisioned that to be. Celtic could use someone bringing an X-factor from the wing position to fill the void left by the departure of Georgios Samaras, but the Greek could be explosive at times. It’s doubtful whether Berget has that in his locker.
To be cynical, one can’t help but wonder if this is the manager just bringing in a familiar face to help his own transition. Berget adds competition for places in attack but then there was plenty of depth there anyway - Anthony Stokes, Teemu Pukki, Kris Commons and Leigh Griffiths can all play up front and the latter two can play out wide - while fans may have preferred to hang onto Tony Watt rather than bringing in another player-project to work on. Just like the hiring of his manager and the subsequent lack of signings, he seems to sum up Celtic’s approach to this season: tentatively experimenting without trying to take too much of a gamble.
Jaroslaw Fojut to Dundee United
Building a reputable defence will make the difference between United overtaking Aberdeen and Motherwell above them in the table, or finishing as everybody’s favourite nearly-men for the second consecutive season. Last season it was the key issue in a team otherwise worthy of taking second place and winning the Scottish Cup. Gavin Gunning was tremendous in the middle part of the campaign but didn’t start or end the season particularly well and, try as they might, they couldn’t come up with a reliable partner for the Irishman: John Souttar was too young, Calum Butcher too rash, and Curtis Good started off well before getting injured and playing a total of three games. Sean Dillon started the year as the club captain but again underwhelmed with his performances, flitting in and out of the side.
With Gunning gone the onus is immediately on Fojut to be as good as, if not better than, the man he’s replacing. What level he’s capable of playing at, we can’t quite tell – though the fact that Celtic signed him on a pre-contract before a knee injury would indicate he has some potential. He’s said to be a commanding centre back who’s got a mean streak in him, and that different style is exactly what United need. They’ve got skilful players in abundance but sometimes you need a hammer thrower. Beyond the matter of the league table, he could be the perfect foil for John Souttar to regain his place in the team. The young centre back has a cultured approach that stands out as being a little naïve at times, but it would perhaps be more appreciated alongside a man who learned his trade under Sam Allardyce.
Josh Magennis to Kilmarnock
There’s a bit of debate going on about the actual length of this contract. It was announced by the club as a three-year deal, a fact which made already giggling opposing fans just about wet themselves laughing. However, Kilmarnock supporters have pointed out to a previous 36-month contract (William Gros) which was ripped up after less than a year. The departures of Sean Clohessy and Antonio Reguero in the summer suggest that the club may hold a get out clause somewhere in these deals.
If that’s the case then it’s maybe not such a bad deal. Magennis can be a fun player to watch, in a cliched British sense. Not the most technical, he does possess incredible pace, is as direct as they come and generally throws himself about. For opposing defenders he is a tricky opponent to deal with. His awkward style doesn’t always sit well with centre backs who’re used to anticipating the orthodox.
That’s the positives out of the way. The negatives are that after four seasons in Scottish football he has failed to hold down a regular place, or regular position, at two clubs; there are some games where it looks like he’s just been introduced to a football and, for someone whose best position is supposedly attacker, he’s only scored 13 career goals. The reason Allan Johnston (and Danny Lennon before him) have taken a chance on the player is down to his physical ability. He is a tremendous athlete and if he can be taught some sort of football nous then there’s the making of a great player. Unfortunately for Magennis, and Kilmarnock, there’s too much evidence to the contrary.
*Having also picked apart the Lee Miller signing last month I wish to make it known that I quite like the signing of Paul Cairney. Fitness is an issue with the midfielder, but I find him to be a terrifically creative player at this level who will definitely bring something different to the Kilmarnock attack.
Alexei Eremenko to Kilmarnock
This would have seemed nonsensical if based on the first three months following his return to Rugby Park in January of this year. Eremenko wasn’t quite the same player and Allan Johnston didn’t know how to use him. Then in the last couple of games he looked more like the man Killie fans dubbed ‘God’ and the team around him finally started playing to his strengths.
They’ll need that to continue this year because otherwise, Killie look like a doomed prospect. There’s not a great precedent for average Scottish football sides to lose their best player and then be better the next season, and Killie might have to be considering the abundance of teams that could fight it out with them at the bottom of the league. Without Boyd it looks like a completely average squad, they need something to give them a lift
When he’s performing at the peak of his powers Eremenko makes those around him so much better. His vision is unparalleled in Scottish football. Johnston’s mistake last term was trying to use him playing off Boyd in a second striker role. It limited the effect of Eremenko’s ability to see the field. If given free reign in the centre with Jamie Hamill doing the grafting beside him, Rory McKenzie buzzing around off Lee Miller in front of him and Chris Johnston drifting in from the wing, he could really launch Kilmarnock up the table.
Motherwell’s weakened squad, Stevie May’s seemingly imminent departure and John Hughes’s ill-advised ‘Scottish Barcelona’ experiment could open up a space for a couple of last season’s strugglers to jump into the top six. If this reunion works out then Kilmarnock could be one of those teams.
Callum Ball to St Mirren
After taking a couple of flyers on Ross Caldwell and English non-league player James Marwood, St Mirren got themselves a viable alternative to Steven Thompson in the shape of Callum Ball. The striker still has potential at 21 and already has a decent pedigree from playing around 30 games in the Championship. He’s big and burly with a physique that has supporters comparing him to Michael Higdon.
St Mirren relied too much on Thompson last season; playng the veteran for 37 league games as the club safely dodged relegation. He was the glue that held the attack together and despite all the hard work he had to do bringing others into play he still managed to net 16 goals in all competitions.
Tommy Craig will probably refrain from pairing the old stallion and the young colt together. Two man strike-forces usually have at least one player with good pace or acceleration. Besides, St Mirren should be looking to pair the youthful brilliance of Kenny McLean and John McGinn in the middle of the park in front of Jim Goodwin and keep their 4-1-4-1 approach. Thompson will likely remain first choice with Ball able to replace him in games where he’s tiring or where a slightly different style is required. St Mirren will also be hoping that their favourite can give the new boy a few pointers and help him become their number nine of the future.