THE January transfer window is fast approaching and clubs are now under pressure to make a decision on their unprotected talent.
Players whose current deals expire at the end of the season can begin negotiating pre-contracts elsewhere. Losing them to England or abroad is one thing, but seeing a former hero turn out in the colours of another club and return to the ground which was once their home leaves a horrible impression. Unfortunately it is a part of football and with each club cutting their cloth it will happen again this summer.
Earlier this week we, at The Terrace Scottish Football Podcast, constructed an extra special episode looking at the list of Scottish Premiership footballers who could become free agents next summer. On the show we went through each team in the league and picked a player from another team who we thought, realistically, could sign and improve their squad. These were the best we could come up with.
Aberdeen - Kris Boyd
The chances of it happening will be slim for two reasons: the Aberdeen support will not be too enamoured with their marquee summer signing being a former Rangers hero, and it seems likely that Boyd will sign a new contract with Kilmarnock. However, the only problem position for an otherwise excellent Aberdeen side is the lone striker in the team’s 4-1-4-1 system. Josh Magennis, Scott Vernon and Calvin Zola have all played a significant amount at the forward position so far this season and none of them have consistently impressed. Derek McInnes will surely be looking for an upgrade and Boyd, if available, certainly meets that need. He’s been excellent on an otherwise poor Kilmarnock side and demonstrated that he’s far more than just a goalscorer.
Celtic - Shaun Hutchinson
There are strong rumours linking Celtic with a January move for Aaron Taylor Sinclair, so we’ll disqualify him from appearing on the list for the time being. If the Parkhead club wish to shop in the Scottish marker further then another young defender with great potential and a possible sell-on fee for the future is Shaun Hutchinson. The Motherwell centre-back has been consistently excellent since breaking into the Fir Park first team squad as a 19-year old. Furthermore, he’d be a different type of defender to the ones currently in the first team set-up and can add greater balance to Neil Lennon’s squad.
Dundee United - Isaac Osbourne
It’s hard to pick out any flaws in the current Dundee United line-up because of how well they’ve been playing recently. Keith Watson and Mark Wilson have both featured at right back with varied success and if Morgaro Gomis short-term deal is not extended then they’ll require cover at centre midfield.
Isaac Osbourne can fill in both positions and excels whenever he enters the field of play. The natural midfielder is strong, athletic and a solid passer of the ball. How he was released by Aberdeen and then ignored by every other side apart from the newly promoted club is anyone’s guess. Since signing for Thistle he has been a standout and should be looking to make a move up the league structure next season.
Hearts - Richard Brittain
It’s all ifs, buts and maybes with Hearts for the time being. The Foundation of Hearts are confident of bringing the club out of administration in January, which would allow them to start planning for the summer, but nothing is yet guaranteed. If they were to successfully navigate themselves through this precarious period then they’ll have to start rebuilding the squad, with veteran players a high priority on the shopping list. They certainly require a striker and an experienced defender, but predicting which players would happily move down a division is tricky, assuming the team are still bottom of the table come the end of the season.
Brittain is on an already struggling Ross County team and may be attracted by the increased wages a clean-slate Hearts could offer. He is a good all round midfielder who impacts the game in both attack and defence, and is a leader on the park. He also has recent experience thriving at the Championship level.
Hibernian - David Raven
There are a number of positions which Hibs need to address, particularly with regards to adding pace and creativity to the attack. But the problem relatively straight-forward to solve is the long term stability at right back. Tim Clancy is injury prone, Fraser Mullen hasn’t lived up to his potential and Alan Maybury is fast approaching retirement. Hibs need a right back for the future and what better candidate than a player Butcher knows and trusts to do the job?
The former Liverpool youth player arrived in Inverness at the beginning of last season. He initially took a bit of time to settle but soon proved himself adept at both the attacking and defensive sides of a full-back’s game. Without doubt the best right-back on the free agent market.
Inverness CT - Graham Carey
Caley Thistle are a difficult team to predict because they generally don’t sign players from central Scotland. They lack the financial clout to convince talent from that area to either uproot their family or to make a long daily commute. It is for that reason why they often go down south or to Ireland to attract players, and why Ross County and Inverness continually trade players at a frequency matched by few other rivalries in world football
If they can tie James Vincent up to a longer contract then they are almost set at the front four positions with Billy McKay and Aaron Doran contracted beyond the summer. Nick Ross, Ben Greenhalgh and Marley Watkins have played on the opposite wing from Doran but nobody has particularly stood out and Hughes could be looking to add more competition for the position in the summer. The new Inverness manager also has a reputation for preferring technically excellent attacking players and Carey certainly fits that mould. He has impressed in flashes with County this year and could be persuaded into making the move if Inverness CT get into Europe.
Kilmarnock - Steven Anderson
Allan Johnston’s team have started six different centre backs in only 15 league games so far this season. Reliability at the position is a major problem with the new manager continually blaming individual mistakes for their terrible form. Mark O’Hara is a good young prospect and Darren Barr has his moments but they are crying out for someone dependable.
Anderson is arguably one of the league’s most underrated players. Physically he’s not awe-inspiring; he is neither fast nor built like the side of a house. He’s an average footballer who can make the simple passes, and he plays on one of the more modestly supported teams in the league. It’s therefore easy for people to overlook his skills as a defender. Incredibly trustworthy, his positioning, concentration and awareness are often flawless. He has long been considered by St Johnstone fans to be their best defender.
Motherwell - Marian Kello
Five first team players departed Fir Park last summer, but lost among the hype surrounding Michael Higdon and Nicky Law was the potential impact of losing goalkeeper Darren Randolph. It is not by chance that a team boasting the defensive qualities of Hutchinson, Stephen McManus and Stevie Hammell have conceded 23 league goals already this campaign. Lee Hollis and Gunnar Nielsen have both spent considerable time between the posts but neither have instilled too much confidence in the Motherwell support.
Other reliable stoppers like Alan Mannus and Jamie MacDonald are available, but Kello seems most likely to make the switch. Currently on a short term deal at St Mirren he’s already in the west of Scotland and only appears to be viewed as a stop gap for the Paisley club. Motherwell could certainly do a lot worse. In his time with Hearts, Kello rarely made an error and had a penchant for pulling off spectacular stops.
Partick Thistle - Fraser Wright
The newcomers have adapted well to the top flight and received numerous plaudits for their passing approach that has saw them outplay many an established Premiership side. However, there are two problems that have plagued them from the start: the lack of a cutting edge in attack and a dependable defender. At just 22, Conrad Balatoni has shown great promise by being the club’s most consistent performer at the back thus far, but captain Aaron Muirhead and Mexican reserve Gabriel Piccolo have struggled with life in the Scottish top flight. Bringing in a veteran to lead Balatoni in his development would be a wise move by Thistle boss Alan Archibald. Wright, solid with both Kilmarnock and St Johnstone, fits the bill.
Ross County - Scott Vernon
Derek Adams’s side have been a pale shadow of the team that rocketed up the table in the latter half of last season. Defence is a big issue with the team having conceded the most in the top flight, but there is an even more glaring need at striker. None of the Ross County forwards have scored a league goal in 14 games.
Vernon will have the chance to prove himself over the next few fixtures after performing in Aberdeen’s 2-0 win at St Johnstone last weekend. However, McInnes hesitancy in picking the Englishman over Calvin Zola indicates that he is not a part of the manager’s long term plans. Should no contract extension come his way, he can remain in Aberdeen and in the top flight – should County stay up – by making a daily drive north to Dingwall. He struggled last season, but the previous two campaigns are solid proof that he can provide goals in this division.
St Johnstone - Paul Cairney
In comparing their attendances with other clubs around the Scottish Premiership, it’s fair to say that St Johnstone have overachieved these past couple of years. Therefore, it is difficult to point to any of their core players and say that an upgrade could realistically be brought in. What they could perhaps add is more variety to their attack with a number of the wide players they’ve used this season being naturals elsewhere on the park – Nigel Hasselbaink, Chris Millar and David Wotherspoon.
Cairney seems to have impressed Terry Butcher thus far, so his previously presumed departure may be put on hold for the time being. If he does slip back out of the team, however, he should look no further than a club with a history of getting the best out of talented players. The left-footed midfielder with the stocky frame isn’t build like a classic wide player. Instead he uses quick feet and a direct approach to squeeze past defenders while his crossing isn’t too bad either.
St Mirren - Rowan Vine
Another hard team to pick because Danny Lennon has recently stumbled onto a winning formula that gives the team solidity, particularly in the attacking five with a number of young and hungry players – Paul McGowan, Kenny McLean, John McGinn and Connor Newton – playing off Steven Thompson. What they do lack, particularly without Gary Teale in the side, is natural width and cover for Thompson in attack.
Hibs fans would happily drive him to Paisley, but St Johnstone fans will testify to him being an excellent attacker who can both score and facilitate. He thrived at a club with less fan pressure before and he could easily do so again.