Half way through the close season, for the Scottish League’s anyway, and with some of Scotland’s representatives in European competition already playing competitively, it is a good time to look at the comings and goings at Scottish Premier League clubs in the build-up to the new season.
Of the clubs the biggest number of incomers has been at Ibrox with eight players joining. The only name with any experience of Scottish Football is Ryan jack, who was recruited from Aberdeen. The other players are players that are known to manager, Pedro Caixinha. They are a mix of European and Central / South American players. This is where I think that Rangers will potentially have an issue. These players may be gifted and talented, but as Hearts found out last season, the game in Scotland is a different kettle of fish to most other leagues. Often you need to win the battle before you can play with flair, not that Hearts did that very often. The players may need a settling in period, and with the goldfish bowl of Glasgow, and their pursuit of Celtic, they may not get that time. They may be a success, but Caixinha has also dropped six senior pros from their squad for Europa League qualifying and stated that up to 14 players may leave, and a further three may join. This is a gamble, as if the new players struggle to settle, there will not be the experienced pros to help out.
Aberdeen have been quieter in the transfer market, with Ryan Christie and Greg Stewart, joining on loan from Celtic and Birmingham respectively. They have also agreed to sign Shaun Maloney from Hull. With the loss of Johnny Hayes to Celtic and Jack to Rangers, these signings will make them stronger. I think that the biggest news for Aberdeen, was Derek McInnes turning down the opportunity to join Sunderland. This will give Aberdeen stability and this will increase the chance of more signings of quality. The only issue may be that they have bolstered their attacking options (this was not a weakness last season), but not as yet replaced Jack in the defensive midfield position. I fully expect them to address this before the first league game in August.
As for the rest, Hearts and Motherwell have been the biggest movers, with six players joining so far. Hearts have changed their previous policy of signing unknown Europeans, with the intention of selling them on at a profit. This close season, 5 of the 6 signings are British and two of them (both internationals) have great experience of the Scottish Leagues. This will give them a core British spine, which many felt was missing since they were promoted to the top flight in 2015. They have also taken a chance on Cole Stockton, signed from National League side, Tranmere Rovers. They will be hoping that he will make the adjustment like Louis Moult did at Motherwell, and Jamie Vardy at Leicester. Motherwell have signed their players predominantly from the Lower Leagues in England, using the network he developed as Oldham Manager and working with the Northern Ireland national teams. These are solid signings that will keep Motherwell strong in the new season. They also had three trialists in their friendly victory against Stirling Albion.
Top Flight newcomers, Hibs have signed last season’s loan signings Efe Ambrose and Ofir Marciano on permanent deals, and added the experience of Danny Swanson from St. Johnstone and Simon Murray from Dundee United. To compete for a Top 6 position, I feel that Hibs need to add some more quality to their squad, as they have lost the goals of Jason Cummings who has left for Nottingham Forest. The squad is not wafer thin, but if they lose a couple of key players, they may not be able to replace them like for like. An issue they may also have is keeping hold of Neil Lennon. He is favourite with some bookmakers for the manager’s job at Preston NE, and may be on the shortlist for other jobs if they come up.
As for the other clubs there has not been much movement, with Dundee signing Celtic’s Scott Allan on loan being the most notable. I have not mentioned Celtic, as they have been very quiet so far, and may be waiting to see if they qualify for the group stages of the Champions League. They have strengthened by signing Hayes from Aberdeen (and weakening them at the same time), and decent prospect Kandu Benyu from Ipswich Town.
Celtic were so far ahead last season, slight tinkering will not adversely affect them negatively. They could even afford to lose some of their young stars and still win the title. But I think they want to make a mark again in Europe they last qualified for the knockout stages in 2012-13 season, and will be desperate to hang onto them.
My half term report would be that Rangers may be taking a risk, Hearts are building slowly, Celtic and Aberdeen are making steady positive strides, and Hibs need more quality.
But this could all change come the 5th August and the first round of fixtures, and I am sure there will be plenty of rumours and signings by then.
I am already looking forward to the new season.