12 of the most intriguing pre-season signings in the SPFL

Craig Fowler looks at some of the more interesting signings by Scottish clubs over the summer months

Raith Rovers new signing Rudi Skacel. Picture: SNS
Raith Rovers new signing Rudi Skacel. Picture: SNS

Clint Hill (Rangers, from QPR, free) and Kolo Toure (Celtic, from Liverpool, free)

Signings only work out around half of the time. There are indicators as to which player has a higher chance of success but sometimes you’d be better flipping a coin than trying to predict. In Hill and Toure we have two players arriving in similar circumstances. They are both centre backs. They are each signing for one half of the Old Firm having been released by a club in England. And, most pertinently, they are both over the age of 35.

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History would tell us only one of these guys will be a success and if that’s the case, it’s much more likely to be Toure. He’s younger, played at a higher level most recently, played at a consistently higher level across his career, and is a better fit in his team’s current system than Hill is in Rangers’ pushed-up backline. But in football you just never know. Hill could be David Weir 2.0 for a Ibrox defence that badly needs organised from within, while Toure could succumb to some of the injury concerns he’s had in recent seasons.

Moussa Dembele (Celtic, from Fulham, £500,000)

Originally the intrigue was based around how he would gel with Leigh Griffiths. Would Brendan Rodgers prefer one over the other? Would he go two up top? Or would he station one of them out wide? He’s experimented with options two and three in Celtic’s Champions League campaign thus far, and fans wouldn’t be surprised if he went with option one for the return leg against Astana by leaving Dembele on the bench.

The Celtic support is already fearful they’ve signed the latest in a long string of striking duds. With Nadir Ciftci, Amido Balde, Colin Kazim-Richards, Carlton Cole and Stefan Scepovic all flaming out in the last two seasons, seeing Dembele struggle to adapt immediately must feel like déjà vu.

Patience is the key with a player who, at 20 years old, was never going to be anywhere near the finished article. It was seen as a major coup for Celtic to sign him in the first place and we can’t forget that after only a handful of games. Confidence is a massive part of any footballers game and it looks like Dembele is struggling with his a little at the moment. He’s trying too hard and it’s affecting every aspect of his game.

Unfortunately, patience is at a premium when it comes to playing for either half of the Old Firm.

Josh Windass and Matt Crooks (Rangers, from Accrington, pre-contract)

After scouring the lower leagues of England for available talent in the summer, just about every one of Mark Warburton’s signings last season became a success. In fact, the only ones that could be argued otherwise came on loan from Arsenal and Tottenham. Despite this, cynics chucked at the January deals to tie up Accrington Stanley pair Josh Windass and Matt Crooks on pre-contracts. Taking squad players from Wigan to win the Scottish Championship was one thing, but how were fourth tier English footballers supposed to help the club challenge Celtic at the top of the Scottish football pyramid? This season we’ll get our answer and if Windass and Crooks become mainstays in a Rangers team that challenges or even wins the league, then we may as well go ahead and anoint Warburton the Moneyball king of Scottish football.

Early indications are that Windass could live up to his manager’s expectations after an impressive cameo against Motherwell in the BetFred Cup opener and then looking comfortable in his new surroundings in the next two games, albeit against lower league opponents. For Crooks it’s looking more difficult. He’s advertised as a defensive midfielder, which means he’ll have Joey Barton, Jordan Rossiter and Andy Halliday to compete with for one available position in Rangers’ preferred system. It also doesn’t help that he’s started the campaign injured.

Tony Watt (Hearts, from Charlton, loan)

Mark McGhee wants to throttle him, Neil Lennon called him immature and Stanley Menzo said there were days when he wanted to kill his young striker - whether this was through McGhee’s preferred method of strangulation or some other means is not yet known. All of this combined to foist the “bad-boy” tag upon Watt, a charge he strenuously denies. In fairness, perhaps it has been overblown. McGhee probably wants to throttle half his team at any one time. The falling out with Menzo could have been a cultural difference and, well, which 19-year-old (as Watt was at the time) hasn’t been dubbed “immature”? Well, this season we’re going to get our answer. Robbie Neilson is desperate for a striker who can provide a bit of spark, and Watt is certainly an exciting talent, but the Hearts hierarchy do not suffer fools lightly. If he’s not in the team most weeks when fit then he’ll likely never shake off the “bad-boy” tag. Not now, not ever.

Jayden Stockley (Aberdeen, from Bournemouth, free)

When the Dons first made this deal you couldn’t help but wonder whether the striker’s only eventual purpose in Scottish football was to become an obscure trivia question years down the line. Kind of like how Calvin Zola and Josh Parker will be perceived; strikers who come into the squad to provide a different option but end up dropping out of contention before the season is through.

Aberdeen also went out and acquired Miles Storey on a pre-contract. The former ICT hitman had played, and impressed, in the league last season, while Stockley is a relative unknown north of the border. All the while Adam Rooney stands between any new recruit and the starting XI.

From what we’ve seen of Aberdeen thus far in their European campaign, not only might Stockley play regularly, his presence may herald a change in Derek McInnes’ philosophy. Against Maribor he was stationed alongside Rooney and attack, with Aberdeen looking to take advantage of two sturdy strikers by getting the ball forward to them quickly. They tried this on occasion with David Goodwillie partnering Rooney over the past two seasons, but would always switch back to a 4-2-3-1. The same occurred after Simon Church arrived, as Rooney succumbed to injury a short-time later. If Stockley proves himself to be a success then perhaps Aberdeen will go 4-4-2 full-time, with less emphasis placed around winning the possession battle.

Billy King (Inverness CT, from Hearts, loan)

This is a huge season for the young winger. He’s been a good player for Hearts and is well liked by the Tynecastle support, but he’s never been able to establish himself as a regular in the starting XI. In fact, most fans view him as someone who’s better coming off the bench, a compliment no player really wants to hear.

At Inverness he’ll be under less pressure to perform every single week and won’t have to continually look over his shoulder at who’s waiting in the wings. It’s a massive opportunity for him to grow and prove to his boyhood heroes that he’s more than capable of being a star in this league. If he fails then Hearts will let his contract expire - the club inked him to a six-month extension shortly after he completed his Inverness switch in case he does become a success in the Highlands - and there’s no telling how far he could drop after that.

Faissal El Bakhtaoui (Dundee, from Dunfermline, free)

After the high of relegating their local rivals, Dundee’s support came back down to earth quickly with last season’s top goalscorer Kane Hemmings sold for a paltry £250,000. Combined with the expectation that second top scorer and leading assist maker Greg Stewart is sure to go also, and suddenly there are fears of relegation for a club deeply disappointed to have missed out on the top six last season.

Yesterday the club decided to douse some water on those flames with the signing of Moroccan striker Faissal El Bakhtaoui. Whether the 30-goal hitman from Dunfermline’s League One title-winning campaign can come in and immediately hit the ground running remains to be seen. After all, it’s quite a leap to make in one year. But if it’s a smooth transition then he should form an effective partnership with Rory Loy, the previous sought after striker who ended up being marginalised by the aforementioned Dundee heroes last season. El Bakhtaoui can stretch teams with his pace while Loy is effective dropping deep to link with midfield and finding pockets of space around the penalty area.

If they can sign a creative midfielder, or Paul Hartley patches things up with Gary Harkins, then those relegation fears should prove to be very premature.

Paul Paton (St Johnstone, from Dundee United, free)

A midfield of Paul Paton and Murray Davidson, along with Chris Millar, who himself is no shrinking violet, is a terrifying prospect for opponents of St Johnstone next season. On paper the additions of former United pair Paton and Keith Watson are a little underwhelming, but there’s now an expectation that Tommy Wright knows exactly what he’s doing and these unfashionable cogs will slot seamlessly into the McDiarmid Park machine. Another top six spot beckons.

Tope Obadeyi (Dundee United, from Kilmarnock, free)

The play-off final first leg against Falkirk summed up Obadeyi’s career at Kilmarnock. He showed great physical attributes, threatened to win the match by himself, and yet failed to produce when it really mattered.

Perhaps a drop down to the second tear is exactly what his career needs. He’ll look to take advantage of weaker opponents, build up his confidence and perhaps figure out a go-to move when he gets into the final third.

New boss Ray McKinnon has done a good job at rebuilding the United team following last year’s debacle, and their performances in the BetFred Cup (aside from the first day hiccup at Arbroath) would suggest the 2016-17 campaign is going to be more than just a transition year.

Rudi Skacel (Raith Rovers, from Mlada Boleslav, free)

Does the 37-year-old Skacel still have enough left in the tank to make an impact on Rovers’ season? It should be noted to those doubting Skacel’s capabilities that the last time he was at Hearts, physical exertion wasn’t one of the former Czech international’s strong points. He would mainly jog in a figure of 8 in a central area between 18 to 35 yards from goal and shoot whenever the ball came his way. If Raith can devise a system which allows him to do this and the team to thrive around him, such as Hearts did between 2010-2012, then his incredible shooting technique will be a bonus to their promotion chances.