There should have been a set of revolving doors erected at both ends of this famous football street. Four players arrived at Dundee in one day on Thursday. The lights were still burning bright until after midnight across the way at Tannadice, where five new arrivals were also clocking in.
The new regime at Dundee United promised there would be investment in their first window. Not even the club’s fans could have imagined to quite what extent they meant. In total there have been 11 new signings in January, the same as at Dundee. As if to mock the recently resuscitated merger rumours, this burst of signing activity has effectively created two new teams in the city.
They have been handed very different assignments. In Dundee’s case, the sudden influx of new players are required to blend together to muster enough points to keep the Dens Park side in the Premiership.
At United, the need for the new arrivals to settle quickly is arguably greater. These recruits are charged with not only keeping their side in touch at the top of the Championship but need to prove consistent enough to overhaul a six-point gap between the Tannadice side and leaders Ross County. They must hit the road running, starting against Morton today. Dundee 2.0 could also do with winning their six-pointer with Hamilton Accies at the Hope stadium this afternoon; the hosts are just a point ahead, in the 10th place both Dundee and St Mirren, currently bottom, covet.
The consequence of failing to achieve their respective aims this season is barely worth thinking about. Being present in the top flight next season is so fundamental to both clubs’ futures the fear is they have risked gambling everything. Failure is not at an option.
It was a bloodbath at Dens two days ago. Three players – Kharl Madianga, Jean Alassane Mendy and Elton Ngwatala – were released shortly before midnight. Sofien Moussa and, surprisingly, Roarie Deacon were let go earlier in the day. A prankster had Moussa moving to Partick Thistle hours later, superimposing his head on to the shoulders of a Thistle player with scarf outstretched above his head. A hoax clearly – but one STV Sport, who re-tweeted the message to its 70,000 followers, fell for.
It’s not a laughing matter for those involved. At a time when the city faces more job losses after building firm McGill entered administration, it is important to remember these players have already reached agreement about compensation. It is not as if they are being chucked into the street with just a black bag of their belongings. But it’s still a difficult situation – especially for those from abroad or England, who expected to settle and make their home in the city.
“The boys changed their lives to come to a football club and suddenly the manager changes, the new manager comes in and their life is upside down again,” says former Dundee boss Neil McCann, who brought all these players to the club, some of them as recently as the summer.
“Unfortunately that is the nature of football. But yes, I do feel a responsibility. I feel quite sad. Listen, you are never going to be able to get it 100 per cent right – not one manager out there has. Especially in the environment where we were trying to sign boys from. There is a higher risk value. It’s whether you want to go down the tried and tested, which costs money because that reputation comes with a price, or do you want to try unknowns you can put trust in for a period of time? But are you or they going to get the time?”
“I truly believe some of those guys would have gone to be really successful for Dundee,” he adds. “So I do feel responsibility, I really hope they go on and find great careers elsewhere. I still have great belief in them.”
As many as 13 have headed out the exit door at United in recent weeks, with one, Craig Curran, making the short journey to Dundee. United’s aim is quite simple: return to the Premiership. They are already behind schedule on that front having failed with their last two attempts since relegation in 2016.
As new sporting director Tony Asgar said on his arrival last month, “short-term promotion is the key aim”. While he has already underlined his long-term commitment, it’s clear new owner Mark Ogren has not arrived from America to put those with specialist roles such as Asghar in place, while also investing heavily on players of former Hearts striker Osman Sow’s calibre, in order to spend another season in the Championship.
As Dundee manager Jim McIntyre warned yesterday, the trouble with such an extensive overhaul is the absence of an insurance policy. “We had to take the decisions we felt were needed to take the club forward and get us out of the relegation battle we’re in,” he explained. “There are no guarantees the changes we’ve made will do that.”