Who’s come out on top and who’s had a shocker from the manic month infamously known as the January transfer window?
You hear it all the time. A manager says “he’s not for sale”, “he’s an important part of the team”, “the chairman and I have an understanding”, and then the opposing team drives a lorry load of cash up to the stadium and it’s goodbye fans’ favourite. So to have Celtic go into transfer deadline day with four of their stars - Moussa Dembele, Craig Gordon, Erik Sviatchenko and Kieran Tierney - linked with moves to the English Premier League and to keep hold of them is some achievement.
The Gordon saga, in particular, had a surprising conclusion. Perhaps Celtic never got the fee they wanted, seeing as Chelsea’s two bids were around the £3-4million range. Then again, Rodgers didn’t just avoid questions with terms like “he’s a Celtic player right now and that’s all that matters”, as you often hear from a manager who knows his player could well be away. Instead, he categorically stated Gordon was going nowhere. This is a 34-year-old with a history of injury issues who Rodgers tried to replace earlier this season. Would Celtic have still held their nerve had Chelsea doubled the offer? To save their manager any embarrassment, you’d have to think so.
Not just a mere winner, Dembele was ‘King of the January Transfer Window’. The honour of wearing the crown only happens to a select few, and it’s even rarer when you don’t actually go anywhere.
Throughout the month his price inflated until the point there were reports from a credible French news source (L’Equipe) that Chelsea had offered £40million for his services - and Celtic turned it down! This has since been discredited by Celtic and Chelsea, but even still, he’s had the entire month of everyone telling him how wonderful he is and the dizzying heights he’ll reach in the game.
Then, to top it off, he turned to pop culture for an imaginative way in which to let Celtic fans know there was no chance of him leaving. Had he immediately followed up the ‘I’m not f*****g leaving’ Wolf of Wall Street reference with a .GIF of Barack Obama dropping the mic it would have been perfect.
Agents trusted by Craig Levein
With nine players in and six going out, Hearts had the busiest transfer window of anyone in the Scottish top flight (yes, even busier than Kilmarnock’s). It means that, if results reverse to as they were prior to the Rangers victory, Ian Cathro will be unable to use the “these are not my players” excuse, at least not without conspiracy theorists going wild for their desired confirmation that evil 4-6-0 mastermind Craig Levein is picking the team after all.
While Hearts’ window looks startling from a glance, aside from central midfielders Malaury Martin and Alexandros Tziolis, there isn’t a player Hearts have signed that they didn’t really need. Lennard Sowah is a left back who can actually use his left foot; Aaron Hughes added experience to a young back-line; Tasos Avlonitis covered the exit of Igor Rossi; Andraz Struna will take the place of the injured Callum Paterson; Choulay is the type of out-and-out winger Hearts didn’t have when Sam Nicholson was out injured; and Esmael Goncalves and Dylan Bikey will add fresh impetus to a lacklustre striking corps.
Even Martin and Tziolis can be excused as the former was signed up on a long-term deal, so therefore might be one of those too-good-to-turn-down instances in the eyes of the club, while Tziolis has tremendous pedigree as a 61-capped Greek international.
It may lead to a similar rebuilding job in the summer but, with the exception of the on loan Choulay, Hearts will have the opportunity to make the first offer to a lot of these players if they work out. It’s a strategy they’ve used in the past with the likes of Miguel Pallardo and Prince Buaben getting longer deals after an initial burst of good form. It’s unlikely all the January recruits will stay but it doesn’t mean they’ll all go either.
Queen of the South
The pressure was on Gary Naysmith to get things right in his first transfer window as QoS boss, seeing as his side had failed to win any of their previous 13 games in the league, stretching back to Gavin Skeleton’s time in charge. To stop the rot he signed John Rankin from Falkirk, while adding loanees Joe Thomson (Celtic) and Dom Thomas (Motherwell), thereby overhauling a midfield that had struggled prior to the window opening.
Thankfully for the ex-East Fife boss his new recruits had the desired impact as Rankin, Thomson and Thomas helped Queen of the South dismantle St Mirren away from home in their first game together. From there the club’s fortunes have certainly improved and, while they lost a four-game unbeaten run against Hibs recently, the focus has shifted from fearing relegation to hoping they can reach the play-offs.
Rangers’ ambition to close the gap
‘The gap’ is the most fashionable term of the 2016/17 season. Since Mark Warburton stated there was no gap between the sides after the first Glasgow derby of the season (how’d that work out?) it’s been talked about constantly. Then again, with no title race to speak of, watching this bean counter is maybe the most interesting thing in Scottish football for those fixated on the Celtic-Rangers rivalry.
The fact that Inverness Caledonian Thistle are the only team to take points off Brendan Rodgers’ side this season (a reminder: we’re in February) shows how strange a game football can be. Celtic are dominant, and it was always going to be a near impossible task going for Rangers to close the gap going into the transfer window. However, at the very least supporters were looking for enough quality to kill off Aberdeen in the battle for second. Emerson Hyndman improves the midfield and it may be enough to get them over the line, but it’s nowhere near enough to close the gap before the summer.
January is always a time to get value for money and, in their current financial state, that’s exactly what Rangers have to do. However, something lost in all the talk of the financial gulf in relation to the playing one is this: Rangers don’t need to spend as much as Celtic to compete for a title. They are spending much more than anyone else and just need to use this money wisely. If they do, they probably won’t win any league as they’ll still struggle in the four Old Firm league games, but they’ll at least ‘close the gap’.
Instead, January came and went, the squad was marginally improved, and the gap continues to grow.
The Championship title race
Hibs might have made one of the smartest signings this summer. And when I say obvious. It’s not a criticism. You’d be surprised how many teams need to fill a glaring weakness and don’t take the required steps to address it at all (*cough* Inverness *cough, cough*).
What Neil Lennon’s side really needed was a natural winger with pace - so they went out and got one. What’s more, they filled this void very earlier in the window; more common sense! It’ll never catch on.
Chris Humphrey was given a real baptism of fire in the top-of-the-table clash with Dundee United and made an immediate impression, setting up the first two goals and keeping the opposition on the back foot throughout a comfortable win.
Even if he doesn’t kick another ball for Hibs, his addition may have irrevocably swung the title chase in favour of the Easter Road club. Prior to that match, Hibs were reeling while United had only just surrendered a long unbeaten run. Less than a month later and the gap is up to eight points with United now looking like the side who are struggling for inspiration. In deadline day arrival Alex Nicholls, they’ll be hoping they’ve captured their own game-changer as time is running out.
Gary Locke’s contacts book
Remember when Locke was manager of Kilmarnock and his transfer policy seemed to be limited to signing players he already knew? Well, now that he’s in charge of Raith Rovers he’s decided to double-down on this strategy.
Rovers fans have been tearing their hair out ever since the words “Ryan Stevenson signs for Raith” appeared on the second day of January. The midfielder’s form has dropped off a cliff in the last 18 months as he struggled to get a game for Ayr United and then Dumbarton before signing at Stark’s Park. Seeing as both of those clubs are part-time, and one played in a division below when the tattooed attacker was there, it’s fair to say the Kirkcaldy faithful did not share Locke’s confidence in the player. They then went from incredulous to apoplectic when young fans’ favourite Lewis Vaughan was sent out on loan to make-way for the new addition.
Thus far the Stevenson signing has not worked out and aside from looking good in the Scottish Cup double-header against Hearts, ironically enough, Raith have been terrible recently, adding to the growing discontent in the background. This swell of disapproval was not helped by the club allowing young defender David Bates to join Rangers on a permanent deal, which, it later transpired, was done without demanding a fee from the Ibrox side.
The case for Inverness CT’s defence
Richie Foran has recruited three strikers in the January transfer window. Like Hearts earlier in the season, ICT have a group of forwards who struggle to score, so it’s maybe not a bad thing that they’ve looked to improve by bringing in Henri Anier, Billy Mckay and Dean Ebbe. However, similar to Hearts earlier in the season, their problem hasn’t been scoring goals.
It’s at the back where the real problems are. Their goals scored tally alone would have them in the top half, while the defensive record is the worst in the division. The only thing they’ve done to address this is signed 19-year-old Jamie McCart from Celtic, who’s likely there to improve strength in depth.
Inverness have been far too open at the back from open play and a shambles from set-pieces. The focus has been on improving them as a passing, attacking outfit. Which, in fairness, they’ve played some decent stuff at times. But it’s not much use when you’re bottom of the table.
The hope is that Foran has learned the error of his ways and will be committed to reorganising the back-line and midfield protection in front of them, and that the motivation behind improving the striking arsenal was a move to reducing support for the attackers.
He may do that, or he may double down on plan A and hope his team shoot their way out of trouble. Unfortunately for ICT, my money’s on the latter.
Research involving the Kilmarnock first-team
Humble analysts were just getting to grips with the massive influx of new faces in the summer, which was made doubly tough by so many of them playing once or twice and then disappearing into the ether. So what does Lee Clark and the club do? They go out and repeat this scatter-gun signing policy during the January window.
Seven new players arrived, five of whom came from England, with a further five exiting the club, including the most recognisable of the summer additions, top scorer Souleymane Coulibaly. We’ll just be getting to grips with the strengths and weaknesses of Karleigh Osborne, Josh Umerah and Freddie Woodman before the summer will arrive once more.
That being said, Kristoffer Ajer looks pretty good.