THERE is something so adorably naïve about the summer transfer window.
The disappointments of the previous campaign are washed away the very second our clubs are linked with the next potential star, regardless of how much or little we know about them. By the time these rumours become fact and they are pictured inside the hallowed ground with our beloved colours held above their head, our enthusiasm has peaked at a dangerously high height. The new season has yet to be tainted by the crushing realities of football and could still contain a moment where all our wildest hopes and dreams come true. And it is these new signings that will take us there.
So who have been the winners of the summer so far? When it’s all said and done and Jim White has switched off his two mobiles shortly after midnight on September 1st we’ll look back over the entire window and rate each club’s adventures. For the meantime, however, I’ve selected a few noteworthy transfers from each of the leagues and giving them a rating out of ten. The markings are based on quality of player, need for the club, how the player fits into the squad and the length of the contract.
Craig Gordon to Celtic
The exact reason for this deal will only become apparent long after the ink is dried on the contract. On first glance it seems that Gordon will be the replacement for Fraser Forster, who is strongly linked with a move away from Celtic Park. The England international has two years left to run on his contract but Celtic will be looking to cash out at some point between now and the end of January if they are to get maximum value for their talent. They could wait until the next window to flog Forster and see if Gordon’s rehabbed knee can stand up to the pressures of professional football once more, and whether he’s still the same player after more than two years out of the game. However, not many goalkeepers are bought and sold in January, particularly at the highest level, which is where Forster will be going. If a club makes Celtic an offer they can’t refuse then expect them to bring in another goalkeeper to battle it out with Gordon.
It’s a low risk gamble for a very high reward. If Gordon gets back to even half the player he was when he first joined Sunderland then Celtic will have signed themselves a very capable No.1 for no transfer fee and affordable wages. Putting in the third year as an option is also a smart piece of business. The only downside is if he continues to be injury prone and Celtic have to wait 24 months to rid themselves of him, but one would imagine the club’s medical staff tested him thoroughly before any deal was signed.
Ash Taylor to Aberdeen
It was quite surprising to see the Dons going out and signing three defenders with their first three summer transfer window moves. You’d have thought that a team who struggled to score goals but had little trouble keeping them out would like to do something else other than add to their defence*. And even if they wanted to add to the back four, the last thing they needed was another centre back. Mark Reynolds, Russell Anderson and Andrew Considine can all play the position with distinction while Joe Shaughnessy provides some depth. Of course, Anderson is nearing his 36th birthday and, at 23, Taylor could readily be seen as one of the future. But the pressing need right now was a starting left-back and there will be plenty of capable players available in the centre when the Dons captain does decide to call it a day. McInnes playing Hayes at left-back last week has already raised concerns that the top six side are ready to take on another season without a natural fit at the position. Even if they find one they would have been better combining the money with Taylor’s wage and getting themselves a top player that they need right now.
*After completing this feature Aberdeen acquired David Goodwillie. That signing will feature in next month’s edition.
Gary Harkins/Paul McGowan to Dundee
McGowan looked like a great signing initially. Hartley has gone about completely rebuilding the centre of Dundee’s midfield for their assault on the top flight, bringing in Simon Ferry and Kevin Thomson to form an intelligent and experienced base before throwing in the hard work and energy of McGowan in the No.10 role. It’s going to be very tough season for Dundee and even at the playmaker position they require someone who’s going to run himself into the ground, which is what makes the re-signing of Harkins for the third time a puzzling addition. Perhaps I’m wrong on this one. Hartley may be about to use Harkins up front in a sort of false nine role. After all, they still lack a recognised top level striker. However, my gut instincts tell me Harkins is going to be used as a midfielder and the two showed at St Mirren last season that they cannot both operate in that area of the pitch. The idea that the two could be rotated is a nice idea - Harkins provides the killer touch from the bench or against weaker teams while McGowan’s greater defensive work rate will see him feature against the bigger sides. It just seems like a bit of a luxury for a relegation battling side to have, particularly when there’s still a void to be filled at the striker position.
Another issue with the signing of the pair is the question of dressing room harmony. Harkins isn’t the most hardworking of players and that could certainly anger Hartley who demands strict professionalism from his players. McGowan, on the other hand, has the right mentality on the field but can’t seem to keep himself out of bother of it. Throw in the pouting Phil Roberts and Terry Butcher’s (alleged) nemesis Kevin Thomson and there’s a potential recipe for disaster brewing at Dens Park. Hartley earned total respect from his players at Alloa, but it’s easier to get such devotion when you’re a former Scottish international talking to part-time footballers. He may have bitten off more than he can chew with some of these signings.
Callum Morris to Dundee United
Dundee United have been surprisingly quiet this summer in terms of bringing players in. They’ve made three acquisitions so far and two of them are unlikely to play much next season (teenagers Charlie Telfer and Blair Spittal), only Morris is likely to be considered for selection and, if so, it would be a huge step up for him to make. United may have managed to turn water into wine with Andy Robertson, but that was a once in a lifetime find and it would be risky in the extreme to then adopt such an approach as the main signing policy. McNamara needed to sign a centre back even before Gavin Gunning left and it’s unlikely Morris will fill either of the vacant slots in the heart of defence. He’s got a lot of talent but is still very raw and even struggled in League One at times last season, often prone to the occasional gaff or loss in concentration. And at 23 you’d also have to wonder how much better he is expected to get.
United pride themselves on being the team which is giving Scottish football its most exciting and talented young players. For that and their exploits last season they deserve to give themselves a big pat on the back. But the window of opportunity to win trophies without a fully functional Rangers is closing fast. Last year they fell short of their aspirations due to a lack of reliable veterans throughout the side. A problem they’ve been slow to fix thus far.
Lee Miller to Kilmarnock
Killie definitely needed a striker to replace Kris Boyd. I’m just not sure a 31-year old Lee Miller is that man. There’s no doubting he was a very good, if not great, Scottish Premiership striker when he left Aberdeen for a £600,000 switch to Middlesborough. The only problem is that was four years ago and he’s spent the last three seasons being an inconsistent attacker at Carlisle, a team which were relegated to the fourth tier at the end of last season. There are countless examples of players coming up from such a level and performing in Scotland, though few were in their 30s when they made the switch. They’ve even doubled up on the gamble by giving him a two-year deal, which is a needlessly risky move. How well are they expecting him to perform next year that it will tempt a bigger club into snatching a 32-year away from them? Having said all that he is a decent goalscorer and does possess the technical attributes to be a good target man, which will be useful for Killie as they’ll want him to bring the likes of Chris Johnston and Rory McKenzie into play. Arrived immediately after Boyd, however, is a tough act to follow.
Ryan Stevenson to Partick Thistle
On first glance it’s a great move for the club. Thistle lacked a No.10 for the whole of last season and now they’ve picked up a genuine match winner at the position in Stevenson. Goals from the centre of Thistle’s midfield were almost non-existent last term and providing another threat for defences to worry about should help Kallum Higginbotham and Kris Doolan to further impact matches. Stevenson has a deadly shot on him and has games where he just seems to have a Midas touch. Then again there’s the games when he disappears into a football vacuum. He also lacks mobility at the top flight level and one wonders where exactly he would fit into that dynamic Thistle attack. He does have the technique to play their brand of passing football and the fans should love his playing to the gallery style of interview responses. It’s the kind of gamble that clubs near the bottom usually can’t afford to take, but Thistle made it through last year without a recognised player at the position so it’s certainly one worth taking.
Antonio Reguero to Ross County
Just a quick word on this move. It’s nice to see Antonio Reguero get the chance to be a No.1 goalkeeper yet again. It really was frustrating to watch him follow up that excellent year with Inverness CT by sitting on the Kilmarnock bench for nine months. Not the best from crosses and a little eccentric, he does have great reflexes and his ability to race from goal will allow Derek Adams to push his side further up the field, which should enable them to emulate the pressing style of the much lauded County team that made the top six the season before last. The one year deal also protects County in case his 2012/13 performances were a fluke.
Kris Boyd to Rangers
Say what you want about Rangers’ signing policy - McCoist seems to have a Dad’s Army theme going on - bringing Boyd back to play in the second tier is a great piece of business. It’s a no-brainer, in fact. When everyone thought he was finished Boyd netted 22 goals last season in a very poor Kilmarnock side, all of which came from open play. Against second tier defences there is no reason he shouldn’t hit 30 this coming term. Those Rangers fans who were a little concerned with Ally McCoist’s running of the team in the wake of the Albion Rovers and Dundee United’s Scottish Cup ties should feel a lot better about their title chances now. Not only will Boyd provide goals, he’s a player used to the system McCoist likes to implement and demonstrated that he was more than just a goalscorer with his all-round play in 2013/14.
Jamie MacDonald to Falkirk
I was genuinely shocked by this. No disrespect to Falkirk, but MacDonald really should be playing in the top flight this season. The reason he isn’t is probably to do more with his own personal circumstances than clubs not wanting him. He has a young family and would not wish to uproot them from the central belt in Scotland. Even still, it was assumed that a top flight club in the area, Motherwell for example, would give him the chance to remain in the elite division. From the player’s point of view it’s a bit of a risk. Falkirk will be lucky to finish fourth in the Championship next season given the competition they shall be facing and the reputation he built up for himself with consecutive Hearts player of the year awards may be lost in the madness of next year’s second tier narrative. For the club it’s an incredible signing. No Falkirk fan thought they’d lose Michael McGovern and replace him with someone of a higher pedigree.
James Keatings to Hearts
Keatings ticks all the boxes in the new Hearts signing policy implemented by Craig Levein and Robbie Neilson. He’s young with plenty of upside and a potential resale value if he does well down the line and, for the immediate future, he fits into the tactical approach of using dynamic, quick players to press other teams high up the park. The signing also fits in with the new economical approach to the finances and player spending. Keatings may not have featured much in Hamilton’s promotion run-in but that was after a disappointing second half to the season where he was shunted out wide for large periods to accommodate Jason Scotland. When played through the centre he scored goals, as evidenced by the 12 he had netted by the end of January. The downside is that there are similarities in his game with that of Dale Carrick and the Hearts attack as a whole really lacks strength and anyone with a real aerial prowess. A lumbering 6ft 5in forward may not fit into the overall gameplan but every squad needs a bit of balance and a back-up strategy for when ‘Plan A’ isn’t working.
Christian Nade to Raith Rovers
He’s a lean, mean, promotion winning machine. Everyone scoffed when Nade returned to these shores and joined a Dundee squad with title aspirations. And while he wouldn’t have changed the opinion of many Hearts fans, he certainly silenced supporters at several Championship clubs as he put in some excellent performances that helped drag Dundee over the finish line. It was then quite a shock when Hartley decided against extending the Frenchman’s contract. He’d performed above expectations and was forced to watch on as Phil Roberts took his place in the squad. Surely he can’t be more of a liability than Roberts on the park? That is why Rovers fans should still feel a little cautious with regards to the deal. Nade is fitter than he’s been at any point since leaving Sheffield United and does appear to be more mature. But that shock release from Dundee does pose a number of questions.
Michael Moffat to Dunfermline
If there was one problem with Dunfermline last season, apart from the inexperience of several first team players, it was the lack of a predatory hitman. Ryan Wallace was the team’s leading league scorer with only 10 goals. Moffat, on the other hand, bagged 26 league goals in only 32 games. And that was on an average Ayr United team that he basically carried into the playoffs. Already inheriting the creative talents of Josh Falkingham, Andy Greggan and Ross Forbes, Moffat is joined at East End Park by Andrew Stirling. The former Stranraer winger was one of the stars of the 2012/13 league season and deservedly earned his move into full-time football. With all those players supplying him with ammunition in a league they’re expected to win, don’t be too surprised if Moffat hits at least 30 goals this campaign. “The Moff is on fire!”
Martin Grehan to Stenhousemuir
After losing John Gemmell in the summer, having already missed his services for large stretches last term, it was imperative that Scott Booth picked himself up a centre forward for his first full season in charge at Ochilview. And, if the evidence of last season is anything to go by, he’s picked himself up a very dependable striker at the third tier level. Grehan can score goals but his game is about bringing others into play and working hard while leading the line. He’s a target man type of striker and the only concern for Stenhousemuir fans will be if Booth plans to partner him with fellow new signing Colin McMenamin since there would be a glaring lack of pace in attack.
John Gemmell to Albion Rovers
Lost in the romance of the Albion Rovers 2014 Scottish Cup Cinderella story was the more pertinent point that the modest Coatbridge club would be receiving a small fortune for their team’s exploits. Rather than sitting on those (relatively) massive piles of cash, Rovers have decided to invest some of that money right back into the team with this their marquee signing of the summer so far. Gemmell made his name at Albion Rovers before switching to Stenhousemuir in 2012. After two potent years in Stirlingshire he has taken the decision to move back east and should score a barrel load if given the service. The one caveat is the injuries he struggled with last year, which derailed what looked to be a truly magnificent season when he had already bagged 12 goals by the end of November (he only finished on 15). At the age of 29 he’ll not be able to afford another prolonged period on the sidelines.
As for the new Albion Rovers manager, Darren Young was one of Hartley’s most trusted lieutenants in the Alloa team that rose through the divisions. He’ll look to bring the same sort of professional attitude to Cliftonville. Expect a serious title charge this season.
Barry Ferguson to Clyde
Well done to the former Scotland captain for dropping down right to the bottom of the league structure to begin his career in football management (glossing over those terrible six months in Blackpool). However, he might have been a little naive with his choice of destination. Clyde may have reached the playoffs last year, but the fact that they got there was a huge surprise to everyone in the division given the club’s seemingly chronic financial problems and the fact that they had only 14 registered players on the eve of the campaign. It’s a true testament to the job done by Jim Duffy that he was able to get them competing at the right end of the table. While it’s a decent base for a new manager to build on, star player Kieran MacDonald has departed for the Premiership with Hamilton, and Ferguson will be doing well to get the remaining players to overachieve for him in the same way they did for Duffy. Some stars, like Hartley, bring a air of professionalism to a part-time club. Others don’t fully understand the realities facing players in the lower leagues. Ferguson will have to learn quickly.
From the club’s perspective, however, it is still an excellent hire. The key is in the ‘player’ part of player-manager. Ferguson will easily be the best player in the fourth tier next year. Hell, he probably had enough left in the tank to give the top flight one last go. If anyone is going to progress the work started by Duffy, on such a modest budget, then Ferguson will be that man.
I apologise in advance for any particularly interesting signing that I may have missed. I’ll touch on them all in the June-August look back after the window closes.