Tough to improve at the top
Celtic’s summer was dominated by the transfer market. First it surrounded incoming players, or lack of, then Brendan Rodgers had his say with some pointed remarks before Dedryck Boyata appeared to down tools and it finished with Moussa Dembele exiting for Lyon for around £20million.
The club are in a position of strength. They’ve won all six domestic trophies under the Northern Irishman with the next step to improve at European level. Finding those players who are affordable, with sell-on potential but can improve the starting XI is a tough balancing act.
The goings on behind the scenes would make fascinating reading but it is hard to judge whether the transfer window has been a success or not. After all they brought in nearly £30million but they are in the Europa League as they were left short in the Champions League qualifiers.
It can be tough to improve at the top but they are still the top team in Scotland.
The ‘gel’ myth
If a team has a large overhaul in terms of personnel during a transfer window and proceeds to struggle for performances or points, the manager and fans have a ready-made excuse: ‘the team is just gelling’. Such reasoning is valid, until a point. There is no a specific time limit on when the excuse becomes redundant but Hearts and Rangers have shown that it can only take a few games to get up and running.
Between them, the duo have signed 32 players and both sets of fans would tell you that such a revamp was required. Craig Levein has made the Gorgie side into a fearful attacking force, while reaffirming that great stereotype of ‘big, physical Hearts’. Meanwhile, Steven Gerrard spotted the glaring weakness in the Rangers squad and built from the back, making them more robust.
In the 22 competitive games the two clubs have played this season they’ve lost only once. They only needed the first two, maybe three, matches to ‘gel’.
Clubs won’t be bullied
There was a time, not so long ago, when presented with a seven-figure offer for a player, all clubs outside Celtic and Rangers would be wrapping up said player in cotton wool, safely driving him to his destination before haring back up the road to deposit the cheque. That time is no longer.
Hibs refused to be bullied by Celtic when they came in for John McGinn, while Hearts were steadfast in their refusal to sell Kyle Lafferty to Rangers for less than they wanted. Likewise, Rangers rebuffed offers for Alfredo Morelos from Ligue 1 when they could have easily sold the player and Celtic eked out every single penny from Lyon for Moussa Dembele in what represents tremendous business from the club.
Yet, perhaps the most daring performance came from Aberdeen. Scott McKenna was wanted by Celtic and the Dons rejected all bids. Then Aston Villa came in for the Scotland international. It may have been a loan deal but there was an option to make the deal permanent for more than £6 million. That money would have been welcome with the club building a new training ground and stadium. They stood strong and said the player was going nowhere.
Scottish football clubs are in an increasingly strong position. That will only help the game continue to grow.
V9 academy mix bag
There are currently five graduates of Jamie Vardy’s V9 Academy plying their trade in the Ladbrokes Premiership, four of which were signed this summer. St Mirren have Josh Heaton and Cody Cooke, Alex Penny and Mikel Miller are at Hamilton, while Dundee signed Elton Ngwatala.
The St Mirren duo have been used as a reason to pick holes in Alan Stubbs’ short stay with St Mirren, while Penny had a disastrous league debut against Hearts which included wiping out Dougie Imrie.
Clubs may now be wary of signing players with a V9 Academy past due to the stigma of the aforementioned three. However, Miller is one of Hamilton’s few creative threats and Ngwatala has shown promise.
Just don’t expect St Mirren to enter that particular market again.
You can rely on players who got you promoted
Alan Stubbs faced criticism for not trusting the players which helped St Mirren to promotion. Only five of the Championship winning side started his final match against Hearts at Tynecastle. It is understandable criticism considering the Buddies waltzed to the title.
On the other hand, Livingston have adapted well to the top tier with the spine of the team which was so formidable last season. Kenny Miller was reluctant to play Alan Lithgow but since the defender has returned to the side they have won back-to-back league matches.
In the victory over Hibs the centre ‘seven’ - Lithgow, Declan Gallagher, Craig Halkett, Shuan Byrne, Keaghan Jacobs, Scott Pittman and Scott Robinson - were excellent. All seven played key roles in helping Livi surprise Scottish football by reaching the Premiership. Five were League One winners in 2016-2017.
Loans to stay
Scottish Premiership teams are largely in a better position than they have been for many years. However, they are still reliant on loans to both improve the starting XI and increase depth in the squad. Forty six players have been signed on loan deals this summer. Just under an average of four per team.
It is unquestionable that some loans are excellent business. For example, Hibs bringing in Jamie Maclaren, Hearts’ deal for Steven Naismith, Rangers recruiting Lassana Coulibaly. Then there those which make you think ‘what is the actual point?’. Those players shall remain anonymous.
Patience is a virtue
Tommy Wright has been incredible for St Johnstone. A Scottish Cup win, a regular place in the top six of the league and never having been involved in a relegation battle.
At times, however, he appeared to do the job with one hand tied behind his back as he continuously lost his best players without having the money to invest in improvements. Then we get to this summer with seven players signed. Looking at the quality signed, and the positions filled by that talent, and it’s clear Saints are one of the winners of the transfer window.
Mercurial stardust has been added in Tony Watt and Danny Swanson, pace has been injected on the wings and greater depth brought to the centre of midfield. The team are younger and look more ambitious.
Few fans (or managers) are ever satisfied
Hibs signed eight players during the summer. Six of those players are internationals. Yet, a quick look at the reactions to a tweet the club sent out on deadline day to say the club were finished in the transfer market suggested the club had not signed anyone. In fact you could have been forgiven for thinking they’d re-signed Zibi Malkowski, Sean O’Hanlon, Pa Kujabi and Alan O’Brien.
That is just one example and emblematic of a wider problem. Fans are always wanting more and more. It sometimes feels as if fans would rather clubs panic buy players than not enter the market due to a lack of value for money.
Managers are also rarely content. Simply because they always feel they could do with one extra player. Get them that one extra player and they will then think they need another.
Austrian second tier must be good
Signed predominantly as a centre-back, Peter Haring stepped into midfield for Hearts against Cowdenbeath only to try a number of ambitious cross field passes which found touch more often than a man. It didn’t fill supporters with confidence. Since then he has been a revelation with a host of composed displays in the middle of the Hearts midfield. He has proven himself to be adept at picking up loose balls in midfield, while being a threat when breaking into the box.
He was recruited from SV Reid in the Austrian second tier. Maybe Scottish clubs should be sending their scouts to see if there are any other gems in there.