11 best Scottish Premiership stars available on a pre-contract

Kenny Miller is a free agent this coming summer. Picture: SNS
Kenny Miller is a free agent this coming summer. Picture: SNS
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There are still close to 100 players on expiring deals in Scotland’s top flight. We look at the best who’ll be able to move on freedom of contract this summer.

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11. Alan Mannus (St Johnstone)

Originally supposed to be a list of ten, this article was slightly extended to grant a place to one of the best goalkeepers in the Scottish top flight over the last three seasons. If Mannus wasn’t 34 and on a contract year it’s fair to say he’d still be St Johnstone’s No.1. The Perth club have been spoiled by having two excellent goalkeepers available at once and, wisely, decided to prioritise the development of Zander Clark, seeing as he could be good enough to represent the national team some day.

10. Sam Nicholson (Hearts)

Frequently lively, occasionally breathtaking, sometimes flattering to deceive. We’re over three years on from his debut and we’ve yet to see Nicholson put together a really consistent run of form together. He’s got skills, decent crossing ability and knows where the goals are. Injuries have not helped and he’ll be looking to prove his worth in the second half of this season, especially as contract talks between Nicholson and Hearts are at an impasse. It would stand to reason Nicholson views himself as deserving of a contract among the best at the club, as he’s one of their prized assets, though Hearts would want to see him live up to such standards on a weekly basis.

9. Sean Welsh (Partick Thistle)

For some reason, Welsh is often the target of the boo-boys at Firhill. Supporters always like to take their frustration out on some players more than others, but it feels particularly misguided to direct it at the midfielder based on his performances this season. He’s grown into a talismanic figure over recent months, leading by example in the centre of the park where he demands the ball from team-mates and always tries to get moves started. With a history of injuries at the position (Stuart Bannigan and Gary Fraser to name two), they would be taking a big chance by letting him walk.

8. Josh Meekings (Inverness CT)

He’s not had a great season, as evidenced by Caley Thistle conceding the highest amount of league goals in the Ladbrokes Premiership. However, bare stats can be misleading, especially when you’re on a struggling team that prioritises attacking over keeping things tight at the back. Both Meekings and partner Gary Warren have been among the better centre-backs in the league until this season, which means either their form dropped at the same time, or rookie boss Richie Foran deserves a share of the blame. He’s got all the raw tools to be an excellent defender and, at 24, plenty of time in which to reach his potential.

7. Emilio Izaguirre (Celtic)

The one Celtic player to make the list. This may seem harsh on Kris Commons and Kolo Toure, but it’s hard to tell where both of them will be with their careers this summer. Commons has never been the fittest and will be approaching his 34th birthday having barely kicked a ball since 2015, while 35-year-old Toure seems to have disappeared off the face of the planet after a strong start to the campaign. As for Izaguirre, he’s just unlucky he’s not Kieran Tierney. Most of the clubs in the Scottish top flight would love to have him starting at left-back. Unfortunately for them, he’s much more likely to move to England when he deal expires.

6. Scott McDonald (Motherwell)

The most impressive thing about Scott McDonald, similar to another player on this list, isn’t the fact he’s still turning in excellent performances in his mid-30s, it’s that he’s doing so with an energetic style more akin to someone ten years his junior. The Aussie may have lost some of the sharpness that made him a 20-goal a season scorer during his time with Celtic, but he continues to work harder than anyone else in attack, get in the faces of opposing players, and link midfield to attack better than just about any player outside of Parkhead this season.

5. Brian Easton (St Johnstone)

Threatening in attack, reliable in defence. Easton is exactly what you want in a full-back. He says he wants to sign a new deal and the St Johnstone have made all the right noises about getting him tied to one. With right-back Richie Foster and centre-back Joe Shaughnessy having already agreed new deals, these three, along with captain Steven Anderson and goalkeeper Zander Clark, will ensure St Johnstone keep an excellent defence at least until the end of next season. You probably didn’t expect much less from Tommy Wright and the Scottish football kings of Moneyball.

4. Kenny Miller (Rangers)

Both McDonald and Miller are enjoying the twilight of their careers, though the latter’s Indian summer is slightly more impressive. One, he’s four years older. And two, he’s not changed his game at all. Whereas McDonald has embraced the role of No.10, Miller has continued to tear around the opposing defences in the manner we used to watch him do for Scotland at the height of his powers. Without any shred of doubt, he’s been the best attacking player on a team who could well finish second in the Ladbrokes Premiership this season - at 37. And the most bewildering thing is, he looks like he could do it for at least another two or three years.

3. Niall McGinn (Aberdeen)

McGinn is Sam Nicholson turned up to 11. Meaning, he has problems with consistency, but when he does turn it on he’s likely to win a game all by his lonesome. Look back at highlights of Aberdeen’s recent defeat of Dundee for proof. He’s an excellent crosser, finisher, dribbler and can take a pretty good free-kick. Also, unlike Nicholson, his inconsistency is less week to week and more month to month. While that may not sound like much of a difference, terrorising the competition for a month straight, rather than just one match, is something which can lift the confidence of an entire squad. Hearts are said to be interested, Aberdeen want him to stay, though it’s more likely a second chance in England may pique his interest.

2. Callum Paterson (Hearts)

The right-back who struggles to defend wingers in one-one-one situations but, who cares, he’s a greater goal threat than most Ladbrokes Premiership strikers. Ironically, he’s a greater threat as Callum Paterson the right-back than Callum Paterson the striker (shame on you John McGlynn, shame on you Gary Locke). That’s because from deep he can built up a real head of steam charging into the opposing penalty area. With his mixture of size, power and pace, it must be terrifying for an opposing defender. He’s also got a good shot on him, a decent cross, and must have the best aerial ability of anyone in Scottish football. He’s got all the tools to be a English Premier League star one day. We must hope his knee injury doesn’t put a stop to that dream.

1. Danny Swanson (St Johnstone)

It’s difficult to think of too many players more important to their team this season than Danny Swanson is to St Johnstone. He’s the creative force, the goal threat from deep, the set-piece taker and a reliable shooter from the penalty spot. He’s in the best shape and form of his career having admittedly learned the benefits of nutrition in the summer (are you reading Kris Boyd?). Were he ten or even five years younger it’s not hard to imagine St Johnstone having to bat away suitors from England on an almost daily basis. There’s still talk of a new contract, but the talk has been going on since the start of the campaign, and it’s beginning to feel distinctly familiar to the time Stevie May seemed set to sign a new deal and but eventually ended up at Sheffield Wednesday.