Football never really stops. Even in odd numbered years where there is no major international tournament, football is a relevant sport for all 12 months because of the summer transfer market. The search for new talent can be exciting, exhilaratingly, frustrating, perplexing and steal all sense of rationale, much like watching 90 minutes of action.
All of that emotion leads up to this: the beginning of a new season. Whether we are confident or apprehensive, we won’t know for certain what these new boys are like until we see them in action.
Even if the summer months have been a misguided adventure in talent spotting, there’s still three weeks to put it right before the transfer window closes. Clubs recognise this now and, instead of having a set squad on opening day, they leave a little aside in the budget to fix any problems once they know what we’re dealing with, or sometimes they just decide to wait a little longer until the right player comes along.
Most, if not all, of the teams we see this weekend will not be the finished articles. Here’s where to expect each to strengthen before the end of the summer recruitment drive.
Still need: Centre back, bruising centre midfielder
Overall the Dons have had a strong summer. They’ve signed a variety of options in attack with Miles Storey, Wes Burns and Jayden Stockley, thereby adding direct running, searing pace and a target man to their arsenal; sorted out the goalkeeping problem with the addition of Joe Lewis and Neil Alexander, and kept together the core of their squad. It’s got Aberdeen fans dreaming of a title race again after last year’s bid came crashing down at the final hurdle with six defeats in their final eight games.
One thing they didn’t address were the problems at centre back. Derek McInnes must believe 2015/16 season was a blip for the Ash Taylor-Mark Reynolds tandem but fans remain unsure. They wanted someone to come in and, if not relegate one of the pair to the bench, then at least make them work very hard to keep their partnership together. Callum Morris and Anthony O’Connor have been signed, but nobody’s expecting them to do much more than provide cover.
Struggles against Inverness CT, St Johnstone and Hearts last season have also convinced the Dons support they’re in need of a burly centre midfielder. However, it’ll be difficult to recruit a player to the position who can provide such an attribute while bringing the kind of production shown by Graeme Shinnie, Ryan Jack and Kenny McLean on the football. Youngster Craig Storie is no stranger to a strong challenge and fans may have to be satisfied with his robust presence in a back-up role.
Still need: Left midfielder, attacking midfielder, striker
Efe Ambrose lining up in Europe as often as he did may suggest centre back should be highest on the line of priorities, but Brendan Rodgers will likely wait until Erik Sviatchenko and Jozo Simunovic return from injury and Kolo Toure gets up to full fitness before deciding whether this is an area of the field that should be prioritised.
Within the confines of the Premiership, Celtic probably don’t have to do anything to achieve their objective of winning the title, but if the club is to give themselves the best possible chance of reaching and competing in the Champions League, they require an upgrade at several positions.
Recommending they sign two attack-minded midfielders may seem odd as Celtic have a plethora of them, though there’s little doubt they still lack a bit of real quality in the area. And regardless of whether the new boss wants to use one or two up top, they still need another option as Nadir Ciftci does not appear to be the answer.
Still need: Defenders, creative midfielder
The Dees defence was a mess last season thanks to a combination of injuries and poor form from certain individuals. Signing Darren O’Dea was an inspired choice from Paul Hartley, though it did seem like the ex-Celtic man was holding the unit together by himself. They have one of the league’s best goalkeepers in Scott Bain playing behind them. Along with a hard working midfield unit that should provide enough protection, if they can sort out the back four they should have one of the league’s best defensive records.
Even if Greg Stewart remains at Dens - which is unlikely - Dundee still need a creative midfielder to provide chances for a new strikeforce of Rory Loy and Faissal El Bakhtaoui. Either that or Hartley may need to patch things up with Gary Harkins, who’s been relegated to the reserves and was even left out of this season’s team photo. The team relied on Harkins and Stewart to cut opponents open last season and it’ll be a shock to the system of the entire team to lose both in one window.
Still need: Striker, right back, attacking midfielder
Though Alex D’Acol has shown glimpses of promise in the League Cup, having failed to score in any of his 15 appearances last season, Hamilton need to make signing a new starting striker their No.1 priority before the window closes. Even if D’Acol has discovered the way to goal, he’s not a perfect fit as the lone forward in Accies’ 4-2-3-1 system, where the front man will need to do a lot of hold-up play and feed the likes of Ali Crawford and Dougie Imrie.
Speaking of whom, there’s not a whole lot behind those two in terms of midfielders who can create and score goals, and it’s no coincidence Accies struggled when Crawford’s form dropped off a cliff after an impressive start to last season. Adding another option who’s maybe a level above the likes of Louis Longridge, Danny Redmond or Gramoz Kurtaj will certainly boost their survival chances.
In defence, Georgios Sarris looks a good addition and it’ll be interesting to see if Martin Canning goes after another centre back or counts on youngster Jordan McGregor (who they picked up from Hibs) to be the third option while Jesus Garcia Tena spends the first half of the season out injured. They certainly need a new right back having stationed Grant Gillespie there thus far in pre-season. The long serving midfielder is an able deputy at the role, but not someone you want playing 38 games there.
Still need: Right back/centre back, creative midfielder, goalkeeper
In Jamie Walker, Sam Nicholson and Arnaud Djoum, Hearts should have plenty of midfielders capable of making things happen in the final third, but the lack of fluid play and inability to cut teams open since January has been a bone of contention among the Gorgie Road faithful. A lack of movement from the forwards may have been part of the issue, and Hearts will hope the signing of two dynamic hitmen in Bjorn Johnson - if they can finalise his deal - and Tony Watt will miraculously see the midfield unit make a consistent impact on the final third again.
With one year remaining on his deal and an expectation he won’t sign a new one, you have to believe Hearts are shopping for new right back to replace Callum Paterson long-term. With Liam Smith waiting in the wings, they’ll probably go for someone who can also cover at centre back, which would replace the depth they lost when Jordan McGhee completed his loan move to Middlesbrough.
There is a chance they could bring in another goalkeeper, but it’ll only be if one becomes available that they think is too good to turn down. They’re content to have Jack Hamilton and Viktor Noring compete for the gloves in the meantime.
Still need: Striker, attacking midfielder, centre back
Alex Fisher and new boy Scott Boden are the only recognised senior forwards in the squad and if the latter, a summer edition from Newport County, doesn’t adapt to the SPFL then expect Inverness CT to struggle.
If Boden hits the ground running then Caley Thistle should be fine. Kevin McNaughton is a solid addition while Billy King has buckets of untapped potential that regular football in the Highlands should bring out of him. The return of Aaron Doran from injury may make up for the loss of so many midfielders from last season - Jordan Roberts, Danny Williams, James Vincent and Andrea Mbuyi-Mutombo - though new boss Richie Foran will look to bring in further cover in case Doran doesn’t get back to his pre-injury form.
The separating of centre back partners Josh Meekings and Gary Warren was a major bone of contention among Inverness supporters with regards to John Hughes. Foran has already reunited the pair and will look for a deputy to replace Danny Devine, who left for Partick Thistle.
Still need: A known Premiership standard outfield player
Lee Clark brought in 11 unknown quantities from the lower leagues of English football. It’s a similar strategy to the one Inverness CT used under Terry Butcher. There it worked to great effect. Not all of the players would become important first-team regulars, or even contribute much at all, but they were all on cheap wages and there to supplement the talent already at the club. If they did more than that it was considered a bonus. The problem for Kilmarnock is that with the mass releasing of talent prior to this influx, they’re going to have to rely more on these new guys than Inverness did a few seasons ago. If only three or four prove their worth, as was the case with Inverness, then Kilmarnock still might be in serious trouble.
Fans would feel a whole lot better about the new campaign if Clark managed to bring in one or two players who they are familiar with. Either a player who’s performed in our top flight before or has a pedigree that would assuredly suggest he could slot in right away.
Still need: Box-to-box centre midfielder, full back
The midfield ranks are expected to be bolstered soon. Short-term deals were handed out to glorified trialists Lee Lucas and Craig Clay (Mark McGhee - ah! - must be big on alliteration) so the Motherwell boss could have a longer look at them and it’s expected at least one of the two will sign. Even still, both have been advertised as sitting central midfielders, and with Keith Lasley and new signing Carl McHugh each capable of doing that, fans want someone to replace the departed Stephen Pearson. Someone who can get up and down the field and chip in with a few goals in the final third. If not, the burden will rest almost exclusively on the shoulders of Chris Cadden. While the 19-year-old is mightily impressive and really is one to watch for next term, that’s too much to ask over the course of a 38-game season.
The back four is set for starting positions and all they need to add is extra cover and, perhaps, someone who can maybe replace Steven Hammell long term. The defender is 34 and, unlike team-mate Lasley, a spate of injuries in recent years means he’s not growing old all that gracefully. Fans have so far been unimpressed by Joe Chalmers, the attempted solution to the problem during last year’s pre-season.
Still need: A mature centre back, attacking midfielder
Luring Danny Devine to Firhill may turn out to be a very good piece of business, and about as well as they could have done after losing both Dan Seaborne and Frederic Frans in one window, but the former ICT centre back is still very raw and prone to the odd gaff. Having been the protege beside the experienced Gary Warren, he’ll now become the older head alongside 20-year-old Liam Lindsay. Much potential in that partnership though there may be, a steadier hand should be recruited to ensure a smooth development in both players, especially as 19-year-old David Syme is the current reserve behind the pair.
Otherwise, Thistle have done a great job at keeping the majority of their squad together with Stuart Bannigan and Steven Lawless, two players expected to leave, signing new deals. Ziggy Gordon and Chris Erskine were impressive signings that should improve the team at both ends. The latter of those two will line up with David Amoo and Steven Lawless in the attacking threesome behind Kris Doolan. It’s a unit that could use another option, as Thistle loaned in both Robbie Muirhead and Aidan Nesbitt to try and provide extra spark last season, but it’s not a desperate need at present.
Still need: Centre back, target man striker
If Rangers want to win the title then they’ll need to strengthen the centre of their defence, which to be fair to Mark Warburton, is something he seems keenly aware of. From what the Rangers boss has disclosed in his meetings with the media, “central defender” remains at the top of his shopping list. After some inconsistent showings in the Championship, Danny Wilson and Rob Kiernan, as a pair, aren’t expected to lead Rangers to a title in their first season back and questions remain over how much of a part the soon to be 38-year-old Clint Hill can play over the course of a long season. He’s not a great fit for Rangers’ attacking system, which often leaves centre backs exposed and left to cover a lot of ground behind them.
Up front there are three options in Martyn Waghorn, Kenny Miller and new signing Joe Dodoo. All of them fit the way Rangers want to play, but Warburton has often stressed the reason the team never play direct is because they don’t have a striker of that mould. Why not add a fourth striker who can come off the bench and provide such an option in games where they’re struggling to break the other team down?
In midfield they are all set. There is a plethora of options for every position after the signings of Josh Windass, Joey Barton, Niko Kranjcar, Matt Crooks and Jordan Rossiter.
Still need: Box-to-box centre midfielder, wide midfielder
County are going to have to do the near-impossible and replace Jackson Irvine if they’re going to feel confident about getting into the top six again. It’s not just a case of bringing in a similar level of player, they’ll need to find someone who provided the strength, stamina and ability to affect things at both ends of the pitch. Jim McIntyre largely preferred a 4-4-2 formation and Irvine’s athleticism was a major reason behind it working so effectively. County could go 4-2-3-1/4-5-1 after his departure to Burton Albion, but with four decent forwards on the books - Liam Boyce, Alex Schalk, Craig Curran and Brian Graham - it would be a waste of their resources to only utilise one.
Elsewhere, the release of Raffaele De Vita after a disappointing 2015-16 campaign opens up a squad place for a wide midfielder. Someone who can battle with Jonathan Franks for a starting role and provide cover for Michael Gardyne.
Still need: Pacey striker, attacking right back
Saints are pretty set in most positions. In Zander Clark they’ve got one of the best young goalkeeping prospects in the country, backing up the consistent Alan Mannus. At centre back there’s Steven Anderson, Keith Watson, Dave Mackay, Tam Scobbie and Joe Shaughnessy, all of whom can play at full-back, where Brian Easton shines on the left. In midfield Chris Millar, Murray Davidson, Liam Craig and Paul Paton will battle it out in the middle of the park, while David Wotherspoon and Danny Swanson provide the guile on the flanks, rotated with new signings Blair Alston and Michael Coulson. Only in attack are they a little short, and even then they possess Steven MacLean, Graeme Cummins and youngster Chris Kane. People may scoff at such a list and think a squad is complete, but they are all, more or less, reliable and consistent professionals. And that’s St Johnstone. That’s why they finish in the top six every season.
If they wanted to take it to the next level, maybe try to aim for another cup triumph or get closer to Aberdeen and Hearts, then they could think about getting a speedy striker to stretch teams. It’s something they’ve lacked since the sale of Michael O’Halloran to Rangers. If a speedster can’t be acquired, a target man would give them a different option among the attacking corps. They could also do with a right back capable of replicating the job Easton does on the other side, where the former Hamilton man supports the attack as effectively as he defends.