Judging all 44 of Paul Hartley's Dundee signings
Ironically, the departure of Paul Hartley is quite reminiscent to that of his former Dundee derby foe, Jackie McNamara. When news of each sacking was announced, many pundits remarked that 'he dealt a bad hand' by the sale of star players. In McNamara's case it was Stuart Armstrong, Gary Mackay-Steven and Nadir Ciftci. For Hartley it was Greg Stewart and Kane Hemmings.
There is little to no doubt the loss of Hemmings and Stewart last summer had an immensely negative effect on Dundee results. However, it alone doesn’t excuse a team, who surely must sit in the top six in terms of budget size, currently occupying 11th place in the table. Not to mention their current seven-game losing streak, or the fact they just handed Hamilton Accies their first away win of the season.
What people are missing is this: in Scottish football you have to continuously rebuild your squad if you want to stay a Scottish football manager. If you are unable to consistently get recruitment right, then you’re going to get the sack. That’s because in today’s world, unless you’re in charge of Celtic or Rangers, or you’re incredibly good at convincing players to hang around (e.g. Derek McInnes at Aberdeen) then you’re going to lose your top talents.
To use another Dundee United comparison, after finishing fourth in 2011 they saw Morgaro Gomis, Prince Buaben, Craig Conway and David Goodwillie all depart before the end of the summer transfer window. That’s three-quarters of the midfield and their top goalscorer from the previous season. So, what happened next? They finished fourth again.
In the lower leagues clubs have to do this just about every season. Queen of the South is a good recent example. They lost five of their best players in the summer of 2015 after making the play-offs. And while the following campaign wasn’t exactly a walk in the park, they were still comfortably mid-table by the season’s end.
Though it’s right to say Hartley would still have been in a job if he hadn’t lost his two best players last summer, it’s equally true that he wouldn’t have been sacked if he’d managed to recruit some of his other talents just as effectively.
Speaking of which, here they are: all 44 of the signings made by Paul Hartley as Dundee boss, neatly arranged into easy-to-understand categories.
Greg Stewart, Kane Hemmings
These are simply excellent signings.
Hemmings was a thoroughly effective striker: pacey, powerful and could finish. Stewart, meanwhile, was a multi-tooled attacking arsenal compacted into one player.
Any way you look at these additions, you can’t help but feel impressed. Though Hemmings arrived from Barnsley, his main audition was the 18 months he spent at Cowdenbeath, where he played alongside Stewart in the country’s second tier. It’s a huge gamble signing just one player based on form in the Championship, and yet Hartley managed to hit a home run twice. Furthermore, not only did he get three seasons (combined) of great play from the two, they were both sold on, therefore making Dundee a bit of profit as well.
The other side of the argument is that, despite having two of the best players in Scottish football last year (they both received Player of the Year nominations) Dundee could only finish eighth. It was an early indication that the rest of the recruitment hadn’t been strong enough.
THE MAGIC ACT
Darren O’Dea, Marcus Haber, David Clarkson
All three of these signings were rabbit-out-of-the-hat type stuff. Signed as free agents during the course of the season, they all made a significant shortly after arrival.
O’Dea was brought in shortly after James McPake’s knee cap was shattered into a million bits in the Dundee derby. For a defence already struggling for consistency it was a tough blow, but O’Dea slotted in seamlessly. His performances were so impressive that a short-term deal quickly became a three-year contract, and he’s continued to performing dutifully as leader of the back-line in McPake’s absence.
Haber has been getting a bit of slick for recent performances, but there’s an argument to be made that Hartley would have been out of a job by Christmas had he not signed the former St Johnstone striker. He’s the only player in the squad who can hold up the football, and with a dearth of quality midfielders and abundance of defenders who struggle to defend, he’s an invaluable out-ball for the struggling side. In the 22 league games Haber has played, Dundee have picked up 24 points. In the 11 games he hasn’t, they’ve notched only six.
As for Clarkson, he scored eight goals in his first eight games and then scored only once more in his next 17. Had he stayed he would likely have slid down the list - he’s been very poor at both Motherwell and St Mirren since leaving - but Hartley was wise enough to realise he’d already got everything out of him.
Scott Bain, Paul McGowan, Paul McGinn, Gary Harkins, James McPake
Bain does not belong in the same conversation as Stewart and Hemmings. To anyone who says otherwise I’m going to have to go all Ben Kingsley in Sexy Beast here: no, no, no, no, no, no, no.
The ex-Aberdeen youngster was brilliant in his first season, decent enough in his second and has been one of the biggest underperformers in the league this term. Shots are squeezing past him at an alarming rate and he seems to have developed a fear of collecting crosses. Just look at Hamilton’s second goal on Saturday. Michael Devlin is about three yards out when he stoops to head it in.
Nevertheless, he’s still a great goalkeeping talent when on top form, and he was signed for buttons from Alloa and should make the club a bit of money this summer.
McGowan is another who’s suffered a little this season, but when he’s not getting into scraps with coppers he’s generally a good, combative midfielder to have.
As for the rest, Dundee fans love Gary Harkins and won’t listen to anyone criticising his talents, McGinn was another excellent lower league signing, and McPake is a favourite of the fans despite still retaining the I-can-header-anything approach which saw him criticised at Hibs.
THE BENEFIT OF THE DOUBT
Kevin Holt, James Vincent, Kostadin Gadzhalov, Stephen McGinn, Kevin Thomson, Mark O’Hara
The OK if unspectacular. The decent. The alright. The guys who you could make a case about either way, so let’s do just that.
Holt - Fairly poor last season after making the step up from Queen of the South, though he’s improved this term.
Vincent - Dundee, when they are at their best, rely on a combative hard-working midfield to throw the opposition off-stride, with the win over Rangers being the best example. Vincent is very much a cog in this machine, though he’s limited to being just that.
Gadzhalov - The Bulgarian looks like the second best centre-back at the club whenever he plays, which isn’t all that often.
McGinn - Came in on a short-term deal to play with his brother. He was OK but very much in the mould of what Dundee already had in midfield.
Thomson - The experienced midfielder was usually very good when he started and could still dictate play effectively despite getting on in years. He was a little injury-prone, though.
O’Hara - Though excellent in some games, overall his form mirrors the rest of the team. As he’s still a young player getting used to playing as an advanced midfielder - a quality Hartley recognised in him - there’s still plenty of time for him to come good.
THE TOO SOON TO TELL
Daniel Higgins, Jesse Curran
Higgins has featured twice since signing from Celtic in January. He played well against Hearts, less so against Hamilton. He’s still only 19.
Curran, meanwhile, was signed as a youngster from Australia and the 20-year-old is currently on loan at East Fife.
Arvid Schenk, Darryl Meggatt, Thomas Konrad, Nicky Low, Kevin Gomis, Danny Williams, Simon Ferry, Paul Heffernan, Luka Tankulic, Julen Etxabeguren, Yordi Teijsse, Faissal El-Bakhtaoui, Riccardo Calder (loan), Michael Duffy (loan), Rory Loy, Alex Harris (loan), Paul Heffernan, Nick Ross, Henrik Ojamaa (loan), Tom Hateley, Phil Roberts, David Mitchell
There are far too many names in here to explain one by one, so let’s just go with the contentious ones.
Konrad and Extabeguren have both played a lot of time at centre-back, though neither have done so with distinction and the former is no longer at the club. In midfield, Ross started fairly well before fading badly and has barely been seen in the last four months, while Henrik Ojamaa hasn’t shown all that much since arriving in January. The dead-balls deliveries of Hateley indicate he’s an important player in an attacking sense, but his lack of mobility doesn’t suit Dundee’s style. And up front El-Bakhtaoui has scored three times in 26 games.
Of the others: Loy promised a lot but delivered little; Roberts was a gamble never likely to work out; Heffernan was on his last legs; Meggatt was the antithesis of a Stewart/Hemmings lower league signing; Gomis has come nowhere near close to living up to his pedigree; Mitchell hasn’t done enough to push Bain; Williams has been a huge disappointment after being a decent squad player at Inverness; Teijsse was a project thrust into the team too early, and Luka Tankulic may still be partying in a Dundee nightclub.
THE... WAIT, WHO?
Arturo (loan), Dylan Carreiro, Rhys Healey (loan), Grant Adam
I know of Adam but had no idea the goalkeeper had spent a couple of months with Dundee.
Canadian Carriero played three times in two years and Spanish attacker Arturo spent six months on loan without making a start.
Healey, according to research, started four out of his seven appearances and even kept Hemmings on the bench for three of them. He scored once before getting injured and returning to Cardiff City.
THE MY GOD, WHY?
Klok was a bizarre signing from the last transfer window. How do you improve a bloated midfield group where every player is lightweight and very few can be relied on to perform consistently? Well, why not sign another lightweight midfielder who’s Scottish football pedigree was six appearances for a poor Ross County side? Not all that surprisingly, the Dutchman has already left the club.