With Coventry City defender Jack Grimmer revealing he has held talks with Scottish clubs as he eyes a return north of the Border, Patrick McPartlin looks at which teams might be keen on the 25-year-old...
At 17, Jack Grimmer left hometown side Aberdeen after just four first-team appearances in three years, joining Fulham on a three-year deal. His decision to leave the north-east at such a tender age sparked anger from some of the club’s fans, while Dons chief executive Duncan Fraser claimed Grimmer’s transfer suggested the future of Scottish football was in the balance with the best young talent being lured away to England.
However, a return to Pittodrie for the prodigal son wouldn’t be too far-fetched. Aberdeen are desperate for cover at right-back - Shay Logan is only contracted until next summer and may fancy a return to England in the latter stages of his career. Utility man Dominic Ball’s loan is up in the summer and while the Dons may seek to sign him permanently, he’s mostly been used in midfield, and Greg Halford’s short-term deal also runs out at the end of the current campaign.
Grimmer can operate at right-wingback as well as right-back and although he’s predominantly an attacking full-back, he is a dependable defensive figure. His adaptability, aligned with Derek McInnes’ penchant for setting his team out in a 3-5-2 formation for some matches would make Grimmer a good fit. He can also provide cover at centre-back.
Club captain David Gray has returned to regular action this season but the departure of Efe Ambrose in January has illustrated how light Hibs are in terms of defensive options. Versatile Greece cap Charalampos Mavrias also left the club earlier this year after his short-term deal expired while Jonathan Spector has been signed on a similar contract until the summer but has mainly been brought in as centre-back cover. Darnell Johnson, brought in on loan from Leicester in January, is also out injured while development squad duo Callum Donaldson and Ben Stirling are probably a bit away from regular first-team action.
First-choice left-back Lewis Stevenson filled in at right-back during the 2-0 win over Motherwell after Gray was forced off with a knock, so it’s clear Hibs could do with reinforcements. Gray’s contract is up in the summer but Leeann Dempster has already insisted that the Scottish Cup final hero has a place for life at Hibs “if he wants”. Gray and Grimmer sharing right-back or right-wing back duties next season isn’t too unlikely a scenario and he could provide the Easter Road side with a long-term option in the position.
Celtic could potentially lose up to seven defenders in the summer through a combination of loans ending and contracts being cancelled plus the possibility of a big-money bid for Kieran Tierney. However, while they will be well-stocked enough in central defence with the likes of Kristoffer Ajer, Jack Hendry and Jozo Simunovic, right-back is more of an issue for the Hoops.
Swedish international Mikael Lustig’s contract is up in the summer and while he may well sign a new deal at Parkhead, there has been interest in him from teams in his homeland. Cristian Gamboa is almost certain to leave in the close season, having fallen out of favour while on-loan Borussia Dortmund full-back Jeremy Toljan will return to North Rhine-Westphalia in the summer. Youngster Anthony Ralston has made a handful of first-team appearances and is presumably viewed as a long-term option in the position.
The main question is whether Grimmer could make the step up - how would he fare in European competition against a better standard of player, for example? At the moment, Celtic’s first-choice full-backs - Lustig and Kieran Tierney - are both regular internationalists. Back-up defenders Emilio Izaguirre and Cristian Gamboa have 166 international caps between them, while Jeremy Toljan has more than 70 Bundesliga appearances under his belt.
Grimmer’s last international involvement was a single cap for Scotland Under-21s in 2014. Given the calibre of the right-backs linked with Celtic during the last transfer window, the Parkhead side are unlikely to plump for a cheaper option if they are serious about making more of a dent in Europe next season and if Lustig leaves, expect to see a similar international-quality full-back brought in to replace him.
Rangers currently have one of the most productive attacking right-backs in the Scottish Premiership. Ibrox captain James Tavernier may have come under fire for the defensive side of his game, but his attacking stats speak for themselves.
Where Grimmer comes into the equation is if Rangers lose Tavernier to an English club in the summer - he’s been linked with West Brom, Swansea, Burnley, Everton and Brighton - or he stays but they want a decent back-up option.
Former Liverpool defender Jon Flanagan, who was also covering at left-back earlier this season, looks to have fallen out of favour while recently-arrived American Matt Polster is more a utility player who can cover midfield as well as the right-back position.
It’s perhaps hard to see Grimmer being brought in as first-choice right-back if Tavernier is tempted back to England - although he indicated last month he is more than happy at Ibrox - but it’s equally unlikely that Polster would assume that role either. Assuming the Light Blues skipper stays beyond the summer, Grimmer could be brought in as Tavernier’s understudy, with an eye to moulding him into the former Newcastle and Wigan man’s successor.
Quite where that would leave Polster is unclear, but with Rangers targeting silverware next season plus a run in Europe, having a large squad would be no bad thing.
The Steelmen appear to have an abundance of options at right-back - Richard Tait, Liam Donnelly, Liam Grimshaw - but none of them are actually playing in their “natural” position.
Tait has made a name for himself as Motherwell’s first-choice left-back - although he has been used at right-wingback when Stephen Robinson lines up in a 3-5-2 formation - while Grimshaw is a defensive midfielder by trade and has also deputised in central defence.
Donnelly, meanwhile, has made six league appearances in five different positions - central midfield, right-back, centre-back, left-midfield and left-back - and hasn’t featured since a 12-minute sub appearance in February’s 4-1 loss to Celtic.
It could be a stretch but if ‘Well are able to convince Grimmer his future lies at Fir Park, he would be a decent addition for two main reasons: 1) He would provide a reliable option at right-back in a four-man defence and 2) His versatility would be a boon if Robinson played a formation with wingbacks. There are definitely worse places to go than Fir Park for a player looking to kickstart their career - the upward trajectories of Cedric Kipre, Ben Heneghan and Louis Moult are testament to that.