Though we can only judge with the benefit of hindsight, Scott Allan has developed an unfortunate habit of making the wrong career choice. The big exception, of course, was his 2014 signing for Hibs.
Having failed to breakthrough at West Brom following an early career switch from Dundee United, and piling up a few lower league stops on his route back to Scotland, it was hard to know what to expect from a player who was so clearly talented, but had yet to put it all together. He would soon prove the doubters wrong, becoming the star man on a Hibs side that finished above Rangers in the second tier and reached the semi-finals of the Scottish Cup.
In fact, were it not for his profligate team-mates at Hampden in the last four loss to Falkirk, Allan may have been immortalised in Hibs history, much in the same manner as Liam Henderson - the man who arrived at Easter Road while he departed for Celtic.
Instead of partying it up for days with his Hibs team-mates, Allan was looking at an uncertain future having been a bit-part player at Celtic in Ronny Deila’s disappointing final season.
Flash forward another 12 months and it’s a case of deja vu for Allan, who once again has to prove that he’s worthy of living up to the hype surrounding his name.
His lack of playing time at Celtic is easily forgiven. It’s difficult to make the leap from the Scottish Championship right up to the champions of Scotland, even if you’re a Player of the Year award winner. And even if he was never good enough to wear the green and white hoops with distinction, it doesn’t mean he can’t perform very well for a side at the opposite end of the table.
His struggles in a similarly weak side at Rotherham should be of greater concern to Dundee and their fans, especially since he was playing for the same manager, Alan Stubbs, whom he starred under at Easter Road. Although, greater context is required.
Regardless of whether or not you believe the English Championship is of better quality than the Scottish top flight, and in terms of resources available to each club it definitely should be, Rotherham were objectively the worst side in the 24-team league. They finished on 23 points, 28 short of survival, and 19 behind second-bottom Wigan Athletic. It’s difficult to play well in such circumstances, especially when you have a reputation as a mercurial, creative player.
Forgetting the stigma attached to Allan and focusing on what he brings to Dundee, it’s hard to argue against this being a strong signing. Allan’s strength is his ability on the football as a passer and playmaker.
Dundee had an army of centre-midfielders last season. It may seem odd that they’ve added to an already bloated core, but none of the existing corps could do some of the things that Allan can. They were workmanlike and unimaginative. Now they have someone with technical ability who can add a spark to that area of the field.
It gives Dundee a dimension they lost last season. Paul Hartley wanted to fashion a side that would play with variety. But when Greg Stewart and Kane Hemmings left, there wasn’t enough quality leftover to play that way and still compete in the top flight. In order to save his team’s bacon, the former boss brought in Marcus Haber and decided to go direct. It worked in the sense that it played a major role in keeping them in the Premiership, but fans were far from entertained and, ultimately, Hartley couldn’t do enough to save his job.
Signing one player isn’t going to completely transform the style of play overnight. But it means Dundee won’t be so predictable and pedestrian. It’s why the addition of Roarie Deacon has also been met with positive responses, even if few of his new fans would know anything of the ex-Sutton United player. Hearing him labelled as a “winger” upon his unveiling was enough to get pulses racing among the Dens Park support, since a natural wide player capable of contributing is another piece of the puzzle they’ve been sorely lacking in recent seasons.
Even if Allan is only a cog in the machine, he should still provide a positive contribution. The best case scenario, though, is that he returns to being the talismanic figure he was at Hibs - a midfielder who can dominate games with his passing range, desire to get on the football and drive at the opposition, and in doing so make others around him better. Moroccan striker Faissal El Bakhtaoui, in particular, should thrive with someone threading through balls for him to use his pace and exploit opponents in behind.
It’s only a one-year loan, so there will be another tough choice to make at the end of next season for Allan, regardless of how this campaign goes. Let’s hope it’s as smart as this one appears.