WITH Rangers absent from Scottish football’s top flight for the first time in history, many of the remaining clubs are looking to seize the chance to benefit from what is expected to be a more ‘open’ league.
Last season’s champions Celtic might be 1/50 to retain the title - and indeed, 10/3 to complete the league and cups treble - but clubs such as Dundee United and Hearts may be eyeing second spot. Here, we take a look at the 12 SPL clubs, and their prospects for the upcoming season.
PROSPECTS: You would never bet your house on it but this looks like it could be a far more enjoyable year for Dons fans, with the likes of Jonny Hayes and Niall McGinn offering a threat going forward. Their youngsters have also had a season to settle in while Russell Anderson can only be an asset with a full pre-season under his belt.
THE RANGERS EFFECT: It’s a few years since Aberdeen made it into the top six but with an extra place up for grabs it is a realistic aim this season. They may also prove one of those least troubled by the tightening of the budgetary belt as they made some decent acquisitions before last term was done.
INS: Jonny Hayes (Inverness Caledonian Thistle), Niall McGinn (Celtic).
OUTS: Rory McArdle (Bradford City), Kari Arnason (Rotherham United), Darren Mackie, Youl Mawene, Mohamed Chalali, Yoann Folly, Danny Uchechi (all released).
COULD PLAY AT A HIGHER LEVEL: Jonny Hayes could use his move to Pittodrie as a stepping stone to something even better.
YOUNG GUN: Clark Robertson. The 18-year-old caught the eye last season but this term could be the year he really consolidates his position as a key member of the first-team squad.
STRANGE BUT TRUE: Aberdeen are the only top-flight club apart from Celtic never to have been relegated.
LAST SEASON: Ninth.
TITLE ODDS: 80/1. Without Celtic: 9/1.
PROSPECTS: The only issue for Neil Lennon’s side will be the margin of their title success. As defending champions, they would have been strong favourites even if there was still a Rangers in the top flight. With the Ibrox brand elsewhere, they should set a record winning margin, with a 30-point gap possible.
THE RANGERS EFFECT: Apart from guaranteeing them the title, it is likely to have a significant downward impact on attendances. No Old Firm games and supporters likely to lose interest in a canter towards the league title.
INS: Fraser Forster (Newcastle United)
OUTS: Cha Du-Ri (Fortuna Dusseldorf), Efrain Juarez (Club America), Daniel Majstorovic (AIK Stockholm), Glenn Loovens (Real Zaragoza), Niall McGinn (Aberdeen), Mark Wilson, Dominic Cervi, Darren O’Dea, Richie Towell.
COULD PLAY AT A HIGHER LEVEL: Victor Wanyama is reported to be interesting Manchester City and Arsenal. The player himself is keen to play in England.
YOUNG GUN: Filip Twardzik’s pre-season performances suggest he could become the next development player to break through.
STRANGE BUT TRUE: Celtic’s 125th anniversary home kit returns black socks to their attire, as the team wore originally. It was Jock Stein who initiated the change to the white socks which have become standard.
LAST SEASON: Champions
TITLE ODDS: 1/33
PROSPECTS: Got in the back door as “Club 12” after Rangers’ demise, so arrive with no expectations and will play with no pressure. The fitness of strikers Steven Milne and Ryan Conroy will be crucial to survival but even still are favourites for the drop.
THE RANGERS EFFECT: The chief beneficiaries of the Rangers fiasco with a major cash windfall but it will be a major shock if they are not embroiled in a relegation scrap come May.
IN: Iain Davidson (Raith Rovers), John Baird (Raith Rovers), Carl Finnigan (St Johnstone), Declan Gallagher (Clyde)
OUT: Craig McKeown, Mark Fotheringham, Rhys Weston (KR Reykjavík), Ross Chisholm, Jake Hyde, Graham Bayne, John Gibson (Elgin, free).
COULD PLAY AT A HIGHER LEVEL: Winger Nicky Riley, linked with a move down south, picked up accolades for his performances last season and it is a major coup for the Dark Blues to hold on to him this season
YOUNG GUN: Leighton McIntosh. The 19-year-old striker is a product of the Dens Park academy and there are big expectations for the Scotland under-19 forward.
STRANGE BUT TRUE: With Dens Park on the same street as rivals Dundee United’s Tannadice they are the closest stadiums in British football.
LAST SEASON: First Division runners-up.
TITLE ODDS: 750/1. Without Celtic 66-1.
PROSPECTS: Yet again manager Peter Houston has been forced to rebuild over the close season but he has made a few astute additions and, if they can start the new season as they finished the last one, then they could be the ones to beat for second place.
THE RANGERS EFFECT: While there is competition to fill the void in the top two left by the Ibrox club and although United remain stretched in defence, if they can avoid injuries to key players they should be the ones to grab that Europa League qualifying spot.
INS: Michael Gardyne (Ross County), Mark Millar (Falkirk), Brian McLean (Preston), Radoslaw Cierzniak (Alki Larnaca).
OUTS: Outs: Garry Kenneth, Dusan Pernis, Paul Dixon (Huddersfield, free), Danny Swanson (Peterborough, free), Scott Robertson.
COULD PLAY AT A HIGHER LEVEL: Take your pick between Johnny Russell and Gary Mackay-Steven…many managers would love to. This is the season where consistency of performance could be the catalyst to a big move for the exciting forwards.
YOUNG GUN: Russell is considered the new David Goodwillie and he will have to maintain the standards he set last season.
STRANGE BUT TRUE: United lost only four league games after the turn of the year – two of them to Aberdeen.
LAST SEASON: Fourth.
TITLE ODDS: 25/1. Without Celtic: 9/5
PROSPECTS: A new manager but, so far, no new players, despite the departure of a clutch of talented (and well-paid) stars from last season’s cup-winning side. There is a definite credit-crunched feel about Hearts this season and the chief concern will be the lack of creativity in attack and how to compensate for the loss of Ian Black in midfield.
THE RANGERS EFFECT: One of the teams who should be looking to make hay in the absence of the Ibrox club. Hard to see them challenging Celtic but the tantalising prospect of the runners-up spot and a place in next season’s Europa League second qualifying round is something to be aimed for. INS: None so far.
OUTS: Ian Black, Rudi Skacel, Craig Beattie, Stephen Elliott (Coventry City), Gary Glen (Ross County), Jason Thomson (Raith Rovers), Suso Santana (Tenerife), Adrian Mrowiec
(RB Leipzig), David Obua.
COULD PLAY AT A HIGHER LEVEL: David Templeton missed much of last season through injury but has the ability to bamboozle most defences.
YOUNG GUN: Much is expected of midfielder Jason Holt, who scored on his senior debut last season.
STRANGE BUT TRUE: Hearts owner Vladimir Romanov claims he spent
£30 million on his Zalgiris basketball team last year.
LAST SEASON: Fifth in SPL and Scottish Cup winners.
TITLE ODDS: 25/1. Without Celtic: 9/4
PROSPECTS: The Leith side are determined to improve on last season’s relegation battle and are intent on making themselves harder to beat, enlisting new blood in goal and in defence, and signing James McPake who impressed while on loan from Coventry City last season.
THE RANGERS EFFECT: The financial impact will be felt by all SPL clubs but the upside is that a side desperate to make it into the top half of the table have an extra place to target.
INS: Tim Clancy (Motherwell), James McPake (Coventry City), Paul Cairney (Partick Thistle), Ben Williams (Colchester), Leigh Griffiths (on loan, Wolves).
OUTS: Ian Murray, Sean Welsh (Partick Thistle), Graham Stack, Garry O’Connor (Tom Tomsk), Martin Scott (Ross County, loan), Matt Doherty (end of loan), George Francomb (end of loan), Tom Soares (end of loan).
COULD PLAY AT A HIGHER LEVEL: McPake has already proved he can take the step up and play in the English leagues and could use his time at Hibs to underline his quality.
YOUNG GUN: Paul Hanlon is getting older now but, after a few years in the side, he has finally shown greater maturity. This could be a defining season.
STRANGE BUT TRUE: None of Hibs’ past four managers have lasted more than 18 months in the job.
LAST SEASON: 11th
TITLE ODDS: 80/1. Without Celtic: 12/1
PROSPECTS: Following a disappointing season ravaged by injuries to key players Terry Butcher will be looking to bounce back with a bit more luck. With a history of investing in youth, Butcher will be taking a big gamble and hoping a very young side can break through and deliver on the senior stage.
THE RANGERS EFFECT: Caley look set to be at the wrong end of the table to benefit.
IN: Gary Warren (Newport), Antonio Reguero (Gandia), Jason Orwell, David Raven (Tranmere Rovers), Ross Draper (Macclesfield), Conor Pepper (St Pat’s).
OUT: Gregory Tade (St Johnstone), Greg Tansey (Stevenage), Ross Tokely (Ross Co), Jonny Hayes (Aberdeen), Thomas Piermayr, Jonny Tuffey (St Johnstone), David Proctor, Roman Golobart (end of loan), Kenny Gillet.
COULD PLAY AT A HIGHER LEVEL: Nick Ross. The 20-year-old has already made over 60 appearances and the midfield general has the vision and engine to interest top-level sides.
YOUNG GUN: Graeme Shinnie has established himself as a regular at the heart of the Caley defence and the 20-year-old has great vision and isn’t afraid to shoot.
STRANGE BUT TRUE: New goalkeeper Antonio Reguero learned his trade at Real Madrid and was given a first-team debut by Spain world and European Cup-winning boss Vicente del Bosque.
LAST SEASON: Tenth.
TITLE ODDS: 500/1. Without Celtic: 50/1.
PROSPECTS: Just like last summer there has been a raft of significant departures and Killie’s ability to remain a mid-ranking side could be threatened. Manager Kenny Shiels has voiced such fears. Much will depend on whether new signing Rory Boulding can fill the void left by Dean Shiels’ exit.
THE RANGERS EFFECT: Michael Johnston was the only SPL chairman not to vote against admitting newco Rangers into the top flight. Kilmarnock have real concerns over the financial fall-out from the Ibrox club’s absence. The fact that their manager and players were this week calling lapsed season ticket holders and asking them to rethink might be telling.
INS: Jeroen Tesselaar (St Mirren), Rory Boulding (Livingston).
OUTS: Dean Shiels, Mahamadou Sissoko (end of loan), Danny Buijs (Sparta Rotterdam, free), David Silva (Oldhanese, free), Zdenek Kroca (Tescoma Zlin, free), Dieter van Tornhout, Ben Gordon (end of loan).
COULD PLAY AT A HIGHER LEVEL: Goalkeeper Cammy Bell can deliver on the big occasion, as demonstrated by his man-of-the-match display in the League Cup final win over Celtic.
YOUNG GUN: Irish winger Jude Winchester’s winner against Dunfermline in the final game of last season showed great promise.
STRANGE BUT TRUE: Killie are the oldest professional club in Scotland.
LAST SEASON: Seventh.
TITLE ODDS: 200/1. Without Celtic: 20/1.
PROSPECTS: Will be among the main challengers for runners-up spot following their third-place last season. The squad remains largely intact but Stuart McCall’s pool remains a small one and any serious injury problems could destablise them. Will miss Steve Jennings and Tim Clancy.
THE RANGERS EFFECT: The club’s participation in the Champions League qualifiers may well mitigate any loss of revenue suffered as a consequence of what happened to the Ibrox club. The absence of any great fiscal reserve in their fan ownership model could leave them vulnerable to any future diminution of the Scottish game’s wealth generation, however.
INS: Simon Ramsen (Bradford City).
OUTS: Steve Jennings, Stephen Craigan (retired), Tim Clancy (Hibernian, free), Ross Forbes, Jordan Halsman (Morton, free), Steven Lawless (Partick, free), Gary Smith.
COULD PLAY AT A HIGHER LEVEL: For the past couple of years we have waited for the talented Jamie Murphy to step up his game and there remains time for him to do so.
YOUNG GUN: Last season’s under-19 captain Stevie Hetherington impressed in pre-season and is pushing for inclusion in the first-team squad.
STRANGE BUT TRUE: This is the fourth successive season in which Motherwell have qualified for Europe – a club record.
LAST SEASON: Third
TITLE ODDS: 225/1. Without Celtic: 7/2
PROSPECTS: Runaway winners of the First Division after a 34-game unbeaten run, Derek Adams’ men have developed a winning mentality and, with the same nucleus of players, will be difficult to beat.
THE RANGERS EFFECT: Survival is more on the agenda than challenging for honours but, with many SPL teams in turmoil, they could benefit from the stability of a settled squad and their Highland fortress of a stadium.
IN: Ross Tokely (Inverness CT), Gary Glen (Hearts), Martin Scott (Hibernian, loan), Mihael Kovacevic (Zadar), Jon Bateson (Macclesfield).
OUT: Michael Gardyne (Dundee United), Gary Miller (St Johnstone), Johnny Flynn (Falkirk), Scott Morrison.
COULD PLAY AT A HIGHER LEVEL: Colin McMenamin scored 19 goals as he led County to the First Division title last season. The nine-team journeyman enjoyed the most prolific season of his career and could perhaps be tempted down south if he enjoys more success this season.
YOUNG GUN: Gary Glen. A player of undoubted talent whose career has been blighted by injury and will arrive from Hearts hungry for a fresh start.
STRANGE BUT TRUE: After joining the league with Highland neighbours Inverness in 1994, their clash in October will mark the first ever
top-flight Highland derby.
LAST SEASON: Won First Division.
TITLE ODDS: 500/1. Without Celtic: 66/1
PROSPECTS: After a busy transfer window, the Perth side will be hoping the new talent delivers value. The loss of top scorer Fran Sandaza and strike partner Cillian Sheridan leads to concern over where goals will come from but manager Steve Lomas will hope new arrivals Gregory Tade and Nigel Hasselbaink can go some way to proving any sceptics wrong.
THE RANGERS EFFECT: A short European adventure will have provided experience but a lot depends on the new strikers. If they gel, Saints should secure a top six finish and maybe even sneak another Europa League spot.
IN: Tam Scobbie (Falkirk), Gary Miller (Ross Co), Gregory Tade (Inverness), Nigel Hasselbaink (St Mirren), Jonny Tuffey (Inverness), Patrick Cregg (Bury).
OUT: Fran Sandaza, Carl Finnigan (Dundee, free), Jody Morris (Bristol City, free), Marcus Haber (Stevenage, free), Derek Riordan, Sam Parkin (St Mirren), Cillian Sheridan (end of loan), Alan Maybury, Lee Croft (end of loan).
COULD PLAY AT A HIGHER LEVEL: Midfielder Murray Davidson’s performances last season earned him a call-up to the Scotland squad.
YOUNG GUN: Striker Nigel Hasselbaink has the talent to better his rather meagre tally of eight goals last season.
STRANGE BUT TRUE: Tennis star Elena Baltacha plays for Team GB because her family stayed on after the Saints brought father Sergei to Perth in 1990.
LAST SEASON: Sixth.
TITLE ODDS: 125/1. Without Celtic: 16/1.
PROSPECTS: A top six finish would be a huge achievement for Danny Lennon’s relatively young and inexperienced squad. He will again call on veteran striker Steven Thompson to lead the line after a solid season, while the English Premier League experience and class of Gary Teale could prove invaluable.
THE RANGERS EFFECT: Don’t expect much change as Lennon will be concentrating on survival, and the top six would be a shock.
IN: Jon Robertson (Cowdenbeath), Sam Parkin (Queen of the South), Lewis Guy (MK Dons), Grant Adam (Rangers).
OUT: Hugh Murray (Partick, free), Jon McShane (Hamilton, free), Steven Thomson (Dover, free), Nigel Hasselbaink (St Johnstone, free), Jeroen Tesselaar (Kilmarnock, free), Aaron Mooy (Western Sydney Warriors, free), Graeme Smith.
COULD PLAY AT A HIGHER LEVEL: Paul McGowan failed to break into the Celtic first team and moved to St Mirren. A player with Champions League experience, the midfielder was linked with Wigan last season.
YOUNG GUN: Highly rated 17-year-old striker Thomas Reilly has just signed a new three-year deal after bursting into the first team at the end of last season.
STRANGE BUT TRUE: Pioneered the idea of floodlights in 1890, when a match against rivals Morton was one of the first ever played under oil lanterns.
LAST SEASON: Eighth.
TITLE ODDS: 350/1. Without Celtic 40/1.