The most interesting expiring contracts in the Scottish Premiership

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There are 153 Scottish Premiership players currently on expiring contracts. Some are sure to stay, others will definitely go, but which ones fall somewhere in the middle? Here, Craig Fowler picks the single most interesting expiring contract from each of the top flight clubs.

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Celtic defender Mikael Lustig. Picture: SNS

Celtic defender Mikael Lustig. Picture: SNS

Aberdeen - Gary Mackay-Steven

Not so long ago we wondered whether Mackay-Steven would rediscover the spark which made him such a thrilling player at Dundee United. When he was hauled off during the first half of Aberdeen’s 3-0 Betfred Cup defeat to Motherwell, just a couple of months into his Pittodrie career, the signs were not positive. But a hat-trick against Hibs in December last year heralded his return as one of the elite players in Scottish football and he’s not looked back since. The Dons are not an exciting attacking proposition this season, but in their flash winger they still have someone capable of lighting up, and winning, any game.

The attacker has said he’s open to signing a new deal, which seems likely to happen so long as another club doesn’t come along and turn his head. Having already failed at Celtic, such a potential suitor is unlikely to come from Scotland, while his advancing years (he’s 28) would probably put off bigger clubs in the English Championship. Expect him to remain in the north east, but a highlight-reel player will always attract interest.

Celtic - Mikael Lustig

Scott Brown is almost certain to remain beyond next summer, while there’s a contract on the table for Dedryck Boyata. The rest are either first-team outcasts (Scott Allan, Dorus de Vries, Cristian Gamboa, Emilio Izaguirre) or youngsters, most of whom will walk. Therefore, by process of elimination, that leaves the Swedish right-back.

After overcoming the injury issues which plagued two of his first three full seasons, Lustig has managed over 40 appearances in each of the last three campaigns and is on pace to do so again this term. Unfortunately for him and his club, those prior troubles seem to have taken their toll. The 31-year-old is long past his peak as an attacker, while he’s become increasingly erratic in defence.

Fans have been calling for an upgrade at the right-back position for some time. It will be interesting to see if manager Brendan Rodgers remains loyal to his player or allows him to walk in order to recruit someone else. A combination of the two, with Lustig playing the role of experienced back-up, could also occur.

Dundee - Cammy Kerr

The easy choice would have been Glen Kamara but there’s not much to say about that. He’s a good player who Dundee want to the keep, and even though he hasn’t played particularly well this season (no one in a dark blue shirt has) the ball remains firmly in his court. One surprising departure from Dens Park could be boyhood fan Cammy Kerr. The right-back is a favourite of the support and, if anyone can claim to having reached ‘pass-mark’ levels so far in this dismal season, it’s him.

On the other hand, his career hasn’t really progressed during the last three seasons despite his obvious potential. Though he’s living the dream by representing the club he grew up supporting, it has become a bit of a nightmare these past couple of years. Unless there’s signs of recovery, and especially if Dundee drop out the division, Kerr would be perfectly entitled to look elsewhere.

Hamilton - Gary Woods

The goalkeeper finally won himself the No.1 jersey at a Scottish top flight club last season. Previously he had shared playing time with Remi Matthews in his first term at Accies after moving from Ross County, where he played back-up to Scott Fox. Though he endured a rough finish to the 2017/18 campaign, over the course he could be satisfied with his performances and went into this term as one of the top flight’s most underrated shot-stoppers.

That is no longer the case as Woods has committed error after error to begin the 2018/19 season. He remains the undisputed No.1, having played every league game thus far, though that can’t last forever if his form continues to drop. In reserve is Ryan Fulton, a Scotland under-21 international of ten caps, who may be ready to stake his place. Though the fact he can’t even establish himself as the unquestioned back-up, as he splits bench-warming duties with former Mildenhall Town goalkeeper Jacob Marsden, would suggest he’s not quite ready yet.

Hearts - Arnaud Djoum

The Cameroon international has previously spoken of his desire to play at a high level in England, so you may expect him to be on his way out of Tynecastle. But that was at a time where the thought of Djoum playing in the English Premier League wasn’t entirely inconceivable. Even though he’s still a valuable first-team member at Hearts, and a criminally underrated player in the eyes of the fans, he’s failed to maintain the form which made him one of the best midfielders in the league during Robbie Neilson’s tenure. At present, he would likely garner interest from the top end of League One.

It’s not just the player who’ll have a lot to consider regarding his future. Hearts will probably want him to stay, but may be content to move on with a number of capable centre-midfielders in the squad and young talent pushing for a regular spot in the starting XI.

Hibs - David Gray

An injury-plagued right-back on the wrong side of 30 doesn’t exactly scream ‘extension’ but Gray demonstrated in the early part of this season that he can still contribute at both ends of the park when fit. Without his lung-bursting runs from deep, which enables him to both cross and attack the opposing penalty area, Hibs have missed that added attacking dimension.

Steven Whittaker still has another year left on his - presumably hefty - contract, so business sense would dictate that Gray walks and he stays. However, football sense would suggest the opposite is more likely to occur.

Clubs rarely dish out new contracts based on sentiment these days, but if anyone is deserved of one, it’s the winning goalscorer from the 2016 Scottish Cup final.

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Kilmarnock - Kris Boyd

With his burgeoning media presence, Boyd may decide enough is enough regarding his playing career and call it quits at the end of this season. He’s already slipped behind Eammon Brophy and Greg Stewart in the pecking order when everyone is fit and available, and he may see another top six finish with his first club as the perfect way to bow out.

That being said, even when there’s a great job waiting for a player on the other side of retirement, it’s still difficult to walk away from what they love doing most, especially if they still believe they’ve got something to give at the highest level. If Boyd reckons he’s good enough for one more season, it’s hard to imagine Kilmarnock telling him to pack his bags. A career goalscorer is always handy when you’re chasing a match in the final ten minutes.

Livingston - Declan Gallagher

There’s quite a few first-team players out of contract this summer for the West Lothian squad, who’ve been a surprisingly impressive addition to the top flight. While captain Craig Halkett should test the market, given his relative youth and excellent form, there are a few others who may be happy to commit their future having been with the club through this incredible rise up the leagues, such as Keaghan Jacobs and Scott Robinson.

One player who may be swithering on his future is centre-back Declan Gallagher. The former Dundee defender has impressed in the top flight and, at 27, would typically draw interest from bigger clubs. However, some may consider his signing too toxic given his prior conviction, and subsequent jail time, for assault.

Motherwell - Gael Bigirimana

This was probably the toughest selection on the list because Motherwell have TWENTY-TWO players out of contract next summer. This includes starting strikers Ryan Bowman and Curtis Main, their previously highly-prized asset Chris Cadden, and golden boy David Turnbull. But in the end I’ve plumped for midfielder Gael Bigirimana.

Well-liked by the Motherwell support, ‘Bigi’ brings a composure in possession and penchant for playing the ball on the deck, traits not shared by a number of his team-mates in the midfield area. Despite this, he’s never managed to hold down a place in the starting XI for an extended period of time, as manager Stephen Robinson seems wary of his lack of physical stature and tendency to switch off defensively.

Even if Motherwell want him to stay around beyond next summer, Bigirimana might take the option of moving to a team who play with a style more suited to his skill-set.

Rangers - Nobody

Same as Celtic last year, there’s nobody who particularly stands out for Rangers as an interesting case. There’s youngsters Kyle Bradley, Liam Burt, Myles Beerman and Ryan Hardie. Of those four, Bradley may be the most likely to get a new deal as the other three have had their shots in the first-team picture over the last two to three years and none of them have managed to make their mark. Of the experienced pros, Lee Hodson is certain to leave when his deal expires, while Lee Wallace is unlikely to earn another contract unless he can recover from his injury hell of the past 14 months and displace the two full-backs ahead of him in the pecking order. Gareth McAuley may receive a new deal if he can become David Weir 2.0 and bring a dependable and veteran presence at the heart of the defence, though time will tell on that one.

St Johnstone - Tony Watt

He may not have scored since August, but Watt has still thoroughly impressed since joining Tommy Wright’s side this past summer on a one-year deal. Whether it was player or club demanding the short-term arrangement, I can’t profess to know, but Saints will surely be desperate to get him tied down to a longer deal. There’s been no hint of the off-field baggage that, rightly or wrongly, sullied his reputation prior to arriving in Perth, which may convince some of the bigger teams in the league to snap him up.

Saying that, the 24-year-old has already been allowed to leave by both Celtic and Hearts, while it’s almost inconceivable that Rangers would want a former Parkhead youth product as a squad player. Aberdeen had him in for training last season and opted not to sign him, leaving only Hibs as the Scottish club with the funds and potential desire to wrestle him away.

Watt and St Johnstone seem a good match for each other. It’ll be interesting to see if this marriage of convenience blossoms into something more.

St Mirren - Anton Ferdinand

While he’s clearly getting on in years, Ferdinand has been a welcome addition to a Saints side that is struggling badly near the foot of the Ladbrokes Premiership table. The former West Ham United defender may have his limitations - his mobility, mainly - but if paired with a quicker, younger, competent defender he could help cement a solid defensive partnership for a team that’s badly in need of one at the moment.

This initially seemed like a Florent Sinama-Pongolle/Eric Djemba-Djemba/Guy Demel sort of deal, where an ageing former EPL star comes up to Scotland in search of a payday and delivers very little in return, but that’s not the case here. If Ferdinand continues to perform and St Mirren survive, you’d have to expect they’d offer the 33-year-old another year. Whether he would that or the chance to chase a different challenge remains to be seen.

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