By Johnny Connelly
It’s no big secret that the game in Scotland has seen better days financially. The lavish spending that saw Scottish clubs trying to lure players from the Premiership and beyond is well and truly at an end. Now, more than ever, the ability to be shrewd in the transfer market is of paramount importance, as SPL clubs look to get as much bang for their buck as possible.
This summer, an astonishing 124 players will leave SPL clubs, admittedly some of these will be loans expiring, but the vast majority will form a huge pool of potentially promising free transfers is there to be trawled through. The difference between success and failure in the SPL can boil down to just a few clever signings, so you can be sure that all SPL managers will be casting a speculative eye on the list of players who’re out of contract this summer.
Unquestionably, there are some players among the 124 that could still be a major force in the SPL. Check out our top ‘Out of Contract’ SPL Select below:
Goalkeeper: Darren Randolph (Motherwell)
Between the sticks for our dream team, we have the man who’s smashed records for Motherwell, and been a major factor in their meteoric rise under Stuart McCall. Darren Randolph has been in fine form again this term, and only last season recorded a club record, 20 clean sheets. He’s continued to pull off big saves in big games, especially away from home. He’s conceded the fewest away goals in the SPL this season (Celtic apart), and seems to be improving all the time. Neil Lennon is a known admirer of Randolph, and a move for the player was considered before Fraser Forster took the Parkhead jersey on a permanent basis. At just 25, his best years are most certainly ahead of him. Motherwell will be hard pushed to find a replacement of his ilk, but his release from Fir Park will be music to the ears of clubs in search of a top goalkeeper. Given the player’s current stature and form, a move south of the border, perhaps to the Championship, appears to be a more likely outcome. However, if another SPL club could somehow secure Randolph’s signature, he’d be an asset to them, and the league in general.
Defender: Alan Maybury (Hibs)
At 34, Maybury is no spring chicken; but what he lacks in youthful exuberance, he makes-up for in experience. The Irishman has plied his trade in the SPL, on and off, for the past 12 years. He made his biggest impact in his younger days on the other side of the Edinburgh divide at the mainstay of the Hearts defence. His no nonsense style and ability to play anywhere across a back-4 made him a hit at the Tynecastle club, and a good solid prospect for some of the lesser SPL clubs to this day (despite his advanced years). Having also spent time at Aberdeen and St Johnstone, before ending up at Hibs, Maybury knows better than most what the SPL is all about. His experience in England, as well as for Ireland at full international level would be a welcome addition to most SPL dressing rooms. He’s failed to reproduce his top form for Hibs this season, but his ‘steady-eddy’ approach could be appealing for clubs fighting the drop next season as his grit and determination is something all managers look to install in their defence.
Defender: Thomas Rogne (Celtic)
Norwegian international, Thomas Rogne, has divided opinion amongst the Parkhead faithful in his 2 and a half year spell at the club. On one hand, a promising, young, commanding centre-half with his best years infront of him; and on the other, an injury prone, frustrating enigma of a player. Rogne was picked up by Celtic during the ill-fated Tony Mowbray regime. Initially he impressed, so much so that he was dubbed as, “the best young talent to come out of Norway in the past 10 years”, by ex-Celt Vidar Riseth. Since Neil Lennon took the reins at Celtic, Rogne has fallen out of favour, and has been hampered by a string of long term injuries. He’s yet to have been given a significant run of games this season, and when he rejected a contract extension based on salary, his exit from Parkhead seemed to be sealed. At just 22, and with the raw talent he’s shown (albeit on a limited basis), he could prove to be a shrewd signing for clubs in the Scottish top flight or beyond. Assuming of course his relatively high wage demands could be met, and his injury hell, a thing of the past.
Defender: Andy Webster (Hearts)
Experienced defender Andy Webster will leave Hearts for the second time in his career this summer, albeit in slightly less controversial circumstances this time. The rough and tumble centre half has been a regular for the Hearts side of late, replicating the decent form he captured during his first spell at the club between 2001-06. He’s no world-beater, but a consistent performer that’s tough in the tackle, and plays to his strengths, without over-stepping his mandate on the field. Webster played only a handful of times at Wigan and Rangers before coming back to Hearts to make his mark. Despite having bags of experience, at 30 years old, he’s still got a good few years left in him, and wouldn’t look out of place in most SPL defences. He’s been capped for Scotland 28 times, and has been on the periphery of the squad several times in the past few years. He’ll be keen to stay in the SPL if possible, and it’s not beyond the realms of possibility for him to earn a place in Gordon Strachan’s Scotland squad once more.
Defender: Mihael Kovacevic (Ross County)
Given the fantastic season Ross County have had, it’s something of a surprise that they’ve succumbed to letting a player as solid as Kovacevic slip through their fingers. The 6ft 4in fullback has been a regular in Derek Adams’ back 4 this season, and something of an unsung hero at times. The Swiss defender offers little going forward, but ensures that he gives his opposite number a formidable challenge each time he takes to the field. He game seems to have developed considerably since his Dundee United days, as the 25 year old’s ball distribution and positional sense have been lamented this term. Kovacevic’s home form in particular has caught the attention of many, and the stats also back up his performances. At home this season, Ross County have conceded the 2nd fewest goals, picking the ball out the net just 14 times since August. This’ll have gone some way to helping Ross County pick up the £500,000 windfall guaranteed by finishing in the top half of the SPL. Kovacevic will be a sore loss to the Staggies, but their loss could well be another SPL club’s gain.
Midfielder: David Wotherspoon (Hibs)
Pat Fenlon’s transfer policy at Hibs since he took over seems to have connotations with the revolving door of a popular department store. David Wotherspoon and 7 others will head for the Easter Road exit when the season draws to a close, and the young Scotsman is expected to be amongst the more sought-after Hibs departees. He has pace, a willingness to get forward, and seems to turn on the flair in big games (most notably scoring a late winner against fierce rivals Hearts earlier in the season). Perhaps a little lightweight, and his goals return leaves a lot to be desired, but his ability to beat players and pick a pass is unparalleled in the current Hibs team. His summer departure will mark the end of a 6-year spell at the Hibees, and his preferred departure remains as yet unknown, but offers from the more frugal SPL clubs are to be expected.
Midfielder: Andrew Shinnie (Inverness)
Definitely the surprise package of the SPL this season, Inverness Caley Thistle’s Andrew Shinnie catapulted the Highland club to a remarkable top-6 finish, and could yet aid them to finish in 2nd place if he can recapture his early season form. The attacking midfielder exploded into form as the SPL 2012/13 kicked-off. He found the net 9 times in the first half of the season, and isn’t afraid to get his hands dirty with the less attractive side of the game too. His form this season has showed that the 23-year old is on the up, making Rangers potentially regret deeming the player ‘surplus to requirements’ back in 2011. His Tulloch Caledonian Stadium departure was purely by choice, after the creative midfielder rejected an extension to stay under the watch of current gaffer, Terry Butcher. Aberdeen have already expressed an interest in the player, but it appears as though Shinnie won’t be rushed into deciding where his next move will be.
Midfielder: Paddy McCourt (Celtic)
When the grand history of Celtic Football Club comes to be written, few players will be considered to have been more of an enigma than their current cult hero/zero, Paddy McCourt. His aptitude for skipping past players and scoring spectacular goals with relative ease endeared him to sections of the Parkhead support, but his never-ending fitness issues have blighted his career to a point where Neil Lennon has decided not to retain his services. His seeming inability to play 90 minutes on a football field at an age when most football players hit their physical peak is baffling to say the least. However, when it comes to dribbling ability, there are only a handful of players in the SPL that can hold a candle to the Northern Irishman. Rumours of Premiership interest in the past, including Liverpool and Wolves on several occasions have hovered around the player, but with a matter of weeks remaining on his contract, it seems as though the ‘Derry Pele’ may yet continue to ply his trade in Scotland, if a suitable SPL suitor can be found. Signing him would be a gamble for SPL clubs, but if the player’s fitness could be resolved and maintained, McCourt could yet light up the SPL for seasons to come.
Midfielder/Forward: James McFadden (Motherwell)
Faddy’s return to Fir Park just a few months ago was the nearest thing to a marquee signing that our ailing league has seen for many years. The Motherwell fans were euphoric to welcome home their prodigal son, all the while wondering if the former Scotland talisman still had some magic left in his locker. Much to the relief of Stuart McCall, he’s turned it on, more and more as each game passes. Perhaps not as quick as he once was, and certainly needing to shift a few pounds, but anyone it’s clear he’s still a cut above the majority of the competition in the SPL. He’s still a goal threat from free-kicks, as he proved against St Mirren last week, and he still possesses the touch and drive of a player with something to prove, and trophies to win. Given the sense of apathy from English clubs for McFadden over the past few years, an SPL club could be his ticket back to the Scotland squad, as he seeks to recapture the form that secured him the big move to Everton all those years ago.
Striker: Kris Boyd (Kilmarnock)
Ok, he’s not the lean, sprightly Rangers and Kilmarnock goal machine he was in the past; but still at just 29 years old, and with the commendable record of being the top scorer in the history of the SPL, Kris Boyd on a free transfer must at least be worth a thought for some clubs in Scotland’s top flight. Since leaving Rangers just a few years ago, Boyd has had a frustrating time down south with Middlesbrough & Nottingham Forrest, a nightmare of a time in Turkey with Eskisehirspor, and a farcical time in the MLS with Portland Timbers. Kenny Shiels saw an opportunity to pick up a cut-price proven goalscorer for Kilmarnock, and it almost paid dividends, as they missed out on a top 6 position in the SPL by the skin of their teeth. Boyd has found the net for Killie upon his return, and given that his stock is low pretty much everywhere except Scotland, there’ll never be a better time to pick up a bargain basement priced striker capable of scoring 30 goals a season. The risk for any interested parties would of course be the player’s attitude and general enthusiasm for the game at that level. Still, the rewards greatly outweigh the risks, and I’m sure we’ll see offers for the player in the coming weeks, assuming of course Killie don’t opt to take the plunge themselves.
Striker: Michael Higdon (Motherwell)
Unfortunately for Motherwell, Michael Higdon is the 3rd player of theirs to make it into our ‘Out of Contract Select’. Higdon is one of many top, dependable players exiting the Lanarkshire club this summer, and he’s done himself no harm at all career-wise when you analyse the shift he’s put in for the Steelmen. The big scouser will win few awards for his artistic approach to the game (or lack of), but firing home 25 goals so far this season for Motherwell has perched him at the top of the SPL goal scoring charts, and has helped his side to get to within touching distance of 2nd place in the SPL. His presence in the penalty area is unmistakable. He’s a handful for any and all defenders in the league, and he gives 100% at every 50/50. His attitude is what makes him the player, and the asset he is. Motherwell will struggle without him next season, and his phenomenal goal scoring record this season will no doubt have attracted attention from his homeland. For the good of the SPL, I for one hope Higdon extends his stay in Scotland, and keeps on banging in the goals.