This was an eventful summer for most clubs in the Scottish Premiership.
Aberdeen needed to replace lost talent, Hearts and Rangers had to improve in the battle for Europe, Hibs needed reinforcing to take on the top flight, while Kilmarnock, Motherwell and Dundee decided to rip up underachieving squads and start again.
But which side had the best window of them all? Which team improved themselves and got the best out of the resources at their disposal? While we can’t know for sure until we look back on the window in a year or so, it’s much more fun to make a few educated guesses in the moment and wildly overestimate the significant of four league matches.
Before we get to the top three, here are a few teams that weren’t in contention, though some may believe should have been.
The Ibrox side have upgraded at a number of positions and trimmed away some of the unnecessary fat from their squad, so this summer should be considered a success overall. However, they can’t be in contention for having the best summer window when they’ve spent millions of pounds and, at present, still don’t look any closer to Celtic, or even leapfrogging Aberdeen into second place.
There have been some major positives this window. When a club enjoys a historically great season, as Celtic did, unless they’re part of the world elite (Barcelona, Real Madrid, Manchester United etc), they soon find their best players being picked off one by one by the circling birds of prey above. For Celtic to have had just about every key first-team player (Kieran Tierney, Moussa Dembele, Stuart Armstrong, Jozo Simunovic) linked with a move away, only to keep them all, is a big plus point. The same can also be said of the recapture of Patrick Roberts, while signing Odsonne Edouard sorted out their third-choice striker problem.
The reason they are not being considered for top spot is because reality failed to live up to expectation. Olivier Ntcham looks a great signing at £4.5million and should already improve the starting XI at the Champions League level, but fans wanted another four Olivier Ntchams dotted around the team. Celtic seem to have been caught between wanting to improve the starting XI, rather than needlessly beefing out the squad, and spending the type of money required to do so in multiple areas of the team. There’s also the lack of additional centre-back cover with Nir Bitton currently pencilled in to start against PSG. Yikes.
Back in February, the good ship St Johnstone looked to be drifting perilously toward rocks with a number of key first-teamers coming to the end of their contracts. In the end, the only significant departures were Danny Swanson and versatile reserve defender Tam Scobbie. The former was replaced, if not by Stefan Scougall, then definitely by Michael O’Halloran, as Saints put together a fearsome attacking triumvirate to support lone frontman Steven MacLean. They even added a few young pieces to what is an otherwise ageing squad.
They do not, however, do quite enough to sneak into the top three contenders.
They are, in no particular order...
No other team went through as much first-team upheaval as Motherwell this summer, and it has to be said the Fir Park club look a lot better for it. Not only do they appear to be a stronger, better balanced outfit than the one which crawled to survival last season, they’re also a lot younger. Keith Lasley retired, while the likes of James McFadden, Stephen Pearson and Scott McDonald all departed, leaving only one player over-30 (Stevie Hammell) from a squad which had seven last term.
Some of these younger talents, like centre-back Cedric Kipre, look like they could be real finds, with Motherwell winning two of their opening four games and equipping themselves rather well in the two defeats.
On the departure front, while they lost Ben Heneghan to Blackburn Rovers, of the three players being coveted by other clubs this summer, he was probably the one they could afford to sell the most. Louis Moult, while making it clear he does not wish to sign a new contract, looks now as if he’ll be a Motherwell player for the duration of the 2017/18 season. His goals will be vital if they want to look up, and not down, in the Ladbrokes Premiership table. The same can be said of the distinctive Chris Cadden and the blend of power and dynamism he brings to the midfield.
Hearts blazed a trail for teams coming straight up from the Championship, finishing third in their first season back and doing so with such relative ease that even their fans weren’t wholly satisfied by the manner in which it was achieved. But that was a weaker Scottish Premiership table. There was no Rangers, only one side from Edinburgh, and Celtic were still led by Ronny Deila. This year’s top flight was always going to be a much tougher proposition for the Scottish Championship title-winners, and that was before Hibs sold top goalscorer Jason Cummings.
Since Cumdog’s departure, Neil Lennon has calmly and methodically set about building up his squad. Simon Murray, a punt which already looks like an inspired piece of business, was joined by Anthony Stokes and Lithuanian international Deivydas Matulevicius in attack, permanent deals for Efe Ambrose and Ofir Marcino ensured continuity in a defence that was rock solid in the second tier, while the likes of Danny Swanson, Vykintas Slivka and Brandon Barker added both quality and versatility to the midfield. There was also a welcomed return of former Scottish international Steven Whittaker.
Even the club’s lone sale, Cummings, can be spun positively. After all, Hibs earned £1.5million for a player who’d yet to score a top flight goal.
The best piece of business Aberdeen conducted in the summer window didn’t even involve a player. It was the contract extension signed by Derek McInnes after the Dons boss turned down the opportunity to join Sunderland.
It was a bold move by the manager. Not only did Sunderland represent the opportunity to move back to England with a club holding Premier League aspirations, it would have allowed him to leave Aberdeen on a high with a summer of uncertainty awaiting him at Pittodrie. Niall McGinn and Ryan Jack had left, with Jonny Hayes soon following them out of the door. McInnes was faced with the prospect of reshaping half his team and he didn’t flinch once. Instead, he went about replacing the lost talents in a manner no-one would have expected back in June, and with Sunderland continuing to flounder, his gamble already appears to be paying off.
And the winner is...
Sure, the summer hasn’t been all positive. Losing three tremendously important first-team players, and Ash Taylor, during one window does not typically constitute a success, but Aberdeen knew at least two of those four would be leaving long before the window opened. They started on negative points and still managed to put together a squad which betters last year’s group.
Stevie May brings fresh impetus to an attack which is spoiled for riches behind the strikers, as Gary-Mackay-Steven, Greg Stewart and Ryan Christie join youngster Scott Wright and Kenny McLean in fighting for three positions. Greg Tansey and Dominic Ball provide some steel in the engine room, something they were badly lacking, while the latter increases competition for places in the back four. Throw in the likes of Kari Arnason and Nicky Maynard and you have a squad bursting with options for a manager who likes to tinker with his starting XI.