Joel Sked has a look at every top flight side and decides which players have the most fascinating ten months ahead of them.
Aberdeen - Ryan Christie
What will Aberdeen do without Niall McGinn and, more importantly, Jonny Hayes, people asked. Christie answered. He has been excellent in Aberdeen’s European campaign. There have been goals against Siroki Brijeg and Apollon Limassol, plus two inventive assists in Bosnia.
Early signs suggest he will be afforded greater freedom and handed greater responsibility than his loan spell last season. Rather than play a supporting role to the wide men, Christie will be the attacking fulcrum with Gary Mackay-Steven and Greg Stewart his subordinates.
He’s already on nine goals for the Dons in 18 appearances. At Inverness Caledonian Thistle he netted ten times in 76 games. This is a player maturing. While it is unfortunate Aberdeen haven’t secured him on a permanent deal, it is understandable from a Celtic point of view. This could be the season where he blossoms into a double-double player. An energetic and creative focal point who could take over from Tom Rogic if/when he leaves.
Celtic - Moussa Dembele
Christian Vieri, Ronaldo, Andriy Shevchenko, David Villa, Thierry Henry. Five players who cost less than Moussa Dembele when he moves for £40 million. The transfer of the Celtic forward would put him around 34th place in the list of the highest transfer fees paid, somewhere between Mesut Ozil and Gaizka Mendieta.
In all seriousness, no matter what transfer fee Demeble eventually leaves for, he will have been an astute piece of business from Celtic. Certainly one of the finest transfers the league has ever seen. How much Celtic receive for him will be determined by this season. It is a pity for the player and the club that he has not had continuity since injury hampered his end to the previous campaign.
He won’t be back until September meaning he is relying on his team-mates to get Celtic into the Champions League. The platform which will ascertain the team who’ll display interest come next summer. He made significant steps under Brendan Rodgers last season, improving with each match, really coming to the fore in the big games.
It will also be interesting viewing the striking dynamic at the club with a resurgent Leigh Griffiths. Seventeen league goals was a good return for Dembele but domestically there should be more. If he continue his rise it won’t be as easy to scoff at the £40 million price-tag.
Dundee - Sofien Moussa
From a Moussa who has been linked with the game’s biggest and best to a Moussa who has arrived from FC Lokomotiv Gorna Oryahovitsa, relegated from the Bulgarian second tier last season, via spells in Norway, Romania, and his native Tunisia. The burly striker screams two things: CULT HERO and BOX OFFICE.
Scott Allan will be Dundee’s best signing. He is a unique midfielder in Scottish football. Smooth and deft, he can dribble and pass, create and scheme. A player both capital clubs foolishly passed on. But Moussa. He’s already on his way to becoming a Dundee cult hero by nearly falling off a wall, plus five goals in the Betfred Cup against Cowdenbeath, Raith Rovers and Buckie Thistle. After all, football fans are a fickle bunch just wanting to believe in something, someone.
There is an element of Diego Costa about him. He plays the game with a knife between his teeth, ready to unsettle and infuriate opposition players, fans and management, as well as his own players - if Paul McGowan and the striker don’t get into a screaming match it will be a miracle. But it is understandable why Neil McCann sees something in the 29-year-old. He wants to get into the box to score goals. He is a handful with his physique and he can play with his back to goal.
Hamilton Academical - Greg Docherty
Once again, Accies fans are waiting until the end of the transfer window to then be surprised by an influx of unknowns, such is the market the club shop in. And once again it will be the players currently at the club who Martin Canning will be relying on to pull his side towards 10th place.
One of those will be Docherty. The hero of the hour in the Premiership play-off last season, netting a daisy-cutter to keep the Accies in the top-flight, the 20-year-old is the prototype Hamilton midfielder: boisterous, busy, bullish and physical. His energy is key in covering ground, snapping into opponents. But it would be remiss to say that’s all he is. He can play, but there is room for improvement.
He is not as productive as Ali Crawford or as easy on the eye as Massimo Donati but there is scope for a box-to-box midfielder who can contribute to different periods of play. If he can play more with his head up he will be a key asset with Canning likely to want him to provide more in the final third.
Heart of Midlothian - John Souttar
The league season will be seven games old before John Souttar turns 21. It is easy to forget that he was born after Karel Poborsky and Davor Suker produced sumptuous chips at Euro 96 and Uri Geller had made Gary McAllister miss a penalty against England. But it is also understandable the impatience of many, waiting for Souttar to fulfil the abundance of talent which he has. Scotland are in desperate need of a centre-back.
What may finally be concluded this season is whether Souttar is, currently, a centre-back. While the Betfred Cup group stages were an embarrassment for the Gorgie club, it was also a screenshot of Souttar’s talents and foibles. Against East Fife he played as a de-facto libero. Stepping out of defence as a playmaker, he swept passes across the field with ease and played crisp, accurate balls into the final third. Against Dunfermline Athletic a finger could be pointed at him for both goals. The first, he dived prematurely and for the second he attempted to intercept the ball with the wrong leg.
It was an incredible pity he suffered a serious injury during last season, just as he was set to partner the experienced Aaron Hughes in the backline. With Hughes and Christophe Berra at the club there is plenty of knowledge to lean on. But, at the moment, perhaps his qualities are best suited to midfield, with Hearts devoid of creativity and intelligence in the central areas.
Hibernian - Danny Swanson
This signing, you sense, is going to go one of two ways. It is either going to be the Hibs version of Kevin Twaddle’s move to boyhood club Hearts or it is going to be a rip-roaring success with Swanson becoming an Easter Road hero. The trials and tribulations, the circuitous route, the spell with a team who he’d rather not have played for, to get to the team he adores suggests it is likely going to be the latter.
At St Johnstone, the 30-year-old found the perfect manager in Tommy Wright. Someone who would accept his defensive limitations due to the make-up of the rest of the squad, offer a little more creative licence but one who would demand a professional approach. In Neil Lennon, Swanson has found another kindred spirit; both have had, and spoken about, their mental health issues.
On the field, Swanson is currently Hibs’ main creative spark. He played well against Ross County in a central role, picking up intelligent positions between the midfield and defensive lines. Yet, Hibs may find they get the best out of him as a wide player on the left, who comes in off the flanks to find half-spaces, combine, shoot and thread passes through. He scored 15 times last season but what went under the radar was his passing ability. He will set up countless chances for the speedsters Simon Murray and Martin Boyle. In Marvin Bartley, Hibs have a one-man wrecking force to offer that protection to allow Swanson to drift.
Kilmarnock - Greg Taylor
From cutting through Joey Barton like a guillotine to netting the winner for Scotland’s first ever defeat of Brazil at any age-level, it was quite the breakthrough season for the left-back, having been pitched into action the pivotal Premiership play-off second-leg against Falkirk in 2016 - his previous involvement amounted to 90 minutes in a dead-rubber at the end of the regular season.
He was arguably the best player on the park as Killie secured their Premiership status. You often find that with young players, their exuberance, adrenaline and naivety allows them to play with an abandonment which enthuses fans. But what makes it more special is that he is originally a centre-midfielder and he has carried on such form through his debut campaign.
Any number of Killie youngsters could be picked. After years of anger and apathy, hordes of non-entities, it is an exciting time for the Ayrshire club. Throughout the side they have talents willing to be developed and improved, alongside an experienced spine. Taylor is arguably the best. He shares similarities in the way he plays to Kieran Tierney: little fear, little respect and he enjoys it. He covers the whole flank with his endeavour and has a wicked delivery which should excite Lee Erwin.
Motherwell - Chris Cadden
Throughout all of the last season, Well fans and Scottish football fans in general were waiting for this powerful talent to explode, to drive the Steelmen forward and take control of games but it wasn’t to materialise. However, that should not be a slight on the 20-year-old. Cadden was shuffled around, playing half a dozen positions, mainly on the right-hand side.
He broke into the team in season 2015/2016 on the right. He was impressive in the second half of that campaign, showing signs of a player whose natural position was as a driving number 8 in the middle of the park, not too dissimilar to Stuart Armstrong. Yet, such was the personnel issues at Fir Park he was too often stuck on the wing. Barring a tormenting of Emilio Izaguirre, forcing the removal of the Honduran before half-time for his own safety, it was an underwhelming season.
This season will be different. Stephen Robinson is keen on a back three with a midfield five, Cadden playing as a number eight. In the Betfred Cup he netted three times, his goals offering a snapshot of what he will add this season, racing from deep, latching on to knock-downs, arriving late in the box to score, Paul Hartley-esque. There is a balance to Well’s side, with Carl McHugh sitting in midfield, Cadden and Gael Bigirimana offering the legs and verticality.
Partick Thistle - Christie Elliott
Speaking after Partick Thistle’s evisceration of St Mirren in the Betfred Cup, Alan Archibald offered praise to Elliott, one of the most underrated players in the league. He spoke of the player’s development since being signed as a striker/attacking wide player and recently transformed into a competent and dependable right-back. The Thistle boss made reference to his physical attributes, standing at 6ft, athletic and strong - all components of the modern day full-back.
With Mustapha Dumbuya injured again, Elliott will start as an outright first-choice, the first time he has had that honour since making the move to Firhill in 2011. Even if Dumbuya had not been injured, Elliott would have a case for the starting berth. Whether it is playing as a full-back or wing-back he has displayed a grasp of the defensive qualities needed to succeed in the role, perhaps only the 5-0 chasing at home to Celtic the game in which he looked out of depth. Even when he is beaten he is good at using his body to recover situations, often displaying too much strength for wingers.
He marries that with an attacking threat. Without any out and out wingers (David Amoo didn’t count) he, like Callum Booth on the opposite side, is important in stretching the game. And with his past experience as a wide player he doesn’t panic in the final third.
Ross County - Billy Mckay
From reliable goal-getter to The Relegator, Mckay’s career has inextricably declined since leaving Inverness Caledonian Thistle for Wigan Athletic. The 28-year-old missed out on ICT’s Scottish Cup win to move to Lancashire half way through the season. He mustered 258 minutes in the Championship as his new side were relegated.
The following season he managed 13 minutes of football for the Latics before he was on the move to Dundee United. He hit double figures, impressing in the early months. But of his 12 league goals only two were in wins as he looked a shadow of the crafty striker which plundered goals in the Highlands. From there it was on to Oldham Athletic where he participated in 26 league games and found the net zero times. Maybe a return to ICT would see the return of his powers? Nope, relegated.
Something wasn’t right. This was a player who hit 48 goals for Inverness in two seasons, and he still managed ten in 26 before his move to Wigan. The one consistent link is that he has joined struggling teams or teams who would struggle. However, he is by no means finished. In Ross County he has a stable, mobile club who should suit his attributes. He will be asked to contribute in the build-up, but mostly he is there to replace Liam Boyce, get into areas where he can score. With the deliveries from wide and a trio of strikers who will aid his goalscoring, expect to see the return of the goal-getter.
Rangers - Daniel Candeias
It was hard to narrow Rangers down to one player. The level of intrigue at Ibrox for the season ahead will justify the countless hours Sportsound spend on covering a club who don’t let them in the building. Around £11 million has been spent on a raft of players, some known, some unknown.
Will Bruno Alves be an upgrade on Clint Hill and bring a level of discipline to the Rangers backline? Who will be the midfield fulcrum? Will Jordan Rossiter fulfil his promise? Can Graham Dorrans, 142 Premier League appearances, bring Rangers up a level? Will they regret replacing Barrie McKay with Dalcio? Can Alfredo Morelos replicate his goalscoring form in Scotland?
But it is 29-year-old winger Candeias who should catch the eye. He’s played in five countries and made more than 60 appearances for the various age levels of Portugal’s national team. He has spoken of the bond he has with Pedro Caixinha having experienced the Rangers boss at Nacional in his native country.
Candeias is electric, dynamic and direct. The type of player who will get fans out their feet. The type of player who has soon as he gets the ball at his feet there is an energy around the stadium, encouragement for him to go forward and attack. He also chips in with the defensive side of the game, which will endear him to the Ibrox faithful.
St Johnstone - Stefan Scougall
For arguably the first time in his tenure in Perth, Tommy Wright faced questions and criticism after the club’s exit from European competition at the hands of Lithuanian side FK Trakai. For what he has achieved it was a tad overblown, although he didn’t help his case when talking down his team. But only a few weeks later the atmosphere has changed around the club.
The Perth Saints, with the addition of Scougall and return of Michael O’Halloran, look well stocked to fight for a place in the upper echelons of the league. O’Halloran brings electric pace and versatility which will allow St Johnstone to be even more dangerous on the counter-attack. However, the pick up of Scougall may prove to be the shrewdest move of the window by any club.
A replacement for Danny Swanson, Wright has already been effusive in his praise of the player, stating that he would have given the team a bit extra in Europe. It was, however, something else he said which was of most interest. Wright talked enthusiastically about Scougall’s ability to beat opponents, make “penetrative” runs and capability of seeing a pass. He could easily be describing Swanson. Wright wants him to replace the Hibs player’s goals and assists. With O’Halloran adding a different dimension, we may be about to see St Johnstone 2.0. Much of that will depend on Scougall.