3 questions about Dundee United's interest in Bilel Mohsni

The former Rangers centre-back is on trial with Dundee United with the hope of winning a deal and helping the club's promotion push. Craig Fowler poses three key questions about the potential move
Bilel Mohsni played for Rangers between 2013 and 2015. Picture: Jane BarlowBilel Mohsni played for Rangers between 2013 and 2015. Picture: Jane Barlow
Bilel Mohsni played for Rangers between 2013 and 2015. Picture: Jane Barlow

Why sign a centre-back?

They already have Mark Durnan, Paul Quinn and Tam Scobbie battling for places in the heart of their defence, all of whom have top flight experience. There’s also William Edjenguele and Lewis Toshney, who in their time have impressed at the position in the second tier. That’s an abundance of centre-backs for a Championship side.

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Look a little closer, though, and you’ll see that it’s not all rosey at the back for United. Scobbie has been a little injury-prone this term, while Edjenguele hasn’t featured since December with a broken foot. Even then he wasn’t at his best prior to the setback, which also goes for Lewis Toshney, who hasn’t been seen since October.

Quinn hasn’t lived up to his pedigree following his move from Ross County in the summer, and Durnan has continued to do as he’s done throughout his United tenure. When the team are playing well, he looks solid. When they struggle he seems to be the one becoming increasingly exposed.

From his time at Hearts, Csaba Laszlo had a reputation as a tactically astute, defensive-minded head coach. So far that has failed to translate to his second role in Scotland as United have kept only four clean sheets in 11 league games while conceding 16 goals. They may have other problems in their team that are more pressing, but seeing as it’s extremely difficult to attract competent free agents this late in the season, they can’t be too choosy.

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Why Bilel Mohsni?

The 30-year-old is a figure of ridicule from his time with Rangers. Not only was he prone to making notable gaffes, especially in the bigger matches, he also signed off on his career by punching Lee Erwin in the wake of his side’s play-off final defeat to Motherwell. He also wasn’t exactly a player of the year candidate in the Championship with Rangers, though the Ibrox club were a bit of a mess at the time, so he can perhaps be forgiven for his flaky form... if you’re feeling generous.

He did, however, have some of the qualities you need in a centre-back. He’s got decent mobility for someone as commanding in the air and he’s not afraid to run the ball out of defence. United don’t need him to play well for three seasons, they just need him for 12 weeks. If they can get three months of peak Mohsni then their chances of promotion may improve.

Whether they can get the best out of him is highly questionable. According to Soccerway, he’s played only once in the last 18 months (at Tunisian side Etoile du Sahel), meaning there’s every chance he’s a worse version of the player who left Ibrox. Even if he’s not, getting up him to speed before the play-offs start is going to be a tall order.

Will it work?

Supporters have been mixed on the news. Those who favour signing Mohsni cite his last act in Scottish football. They feel there is a lack of fight in the current United squad and bringing in the Tunisian would address such an issue.

However, there is a huge difference between someone “up for the fight” (in football speak) and someone literally willing to fight opponents. The former scraps and battles for every ball, refusing to give an inch. The latter is just a liability. Being receptive to punching an opposing striker doesn’t necessarily make you any better at winning 50-50s.

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That said, Dundee United are utterly desperate. It’s fitting that news of Mohsni’s trial has arrived on the same day as the club announcing they’ve lost a further £1million on top of an already dire financial outlook. They need to get out of the Championship as quickly as possible. Bringing in a mad-cap personality who can dominate opponents when he’s on his game could be the kind of unexpected galvanising catalyst they’ve crying out for.

Either that or they’re making the latest in a string of foolish decisions and it’ll blow up in their face in spectacular fashion in the play-offs. Only time will tell.