The Scottish Mail on Sunday
Derek McInnes’ new season preview
Hanging on to your key men can make all the difference. Ahead of next weekend’s big kick-off, Ibrox boss holds all the cards
SHaving a crowd back in can get the juices flowing again for Celtic
TABILITY is the watchword for RANGERS as they head into the new Premiership season as champions. The old adage states that it’s important to recruit and strengthen when you are doing well, and Steven Gerrard has already added midfielder John Lundstram and striker Fashion Sakala to his title-winning squad.
As much as possible, he’ll want to keep that winning group together as clubs will be looking at Rangers’ best players. And they may be in a position to offer good money.
The Ibrox business model means they will try to cash in but there is a fine balancing act in looking after the finances while trying to keep performances right — and keeping their manager happy.
For Stevie, it’s about trying to see that off. He is in a strong position where he has really imposed himself on the club.
Such is his power it will be difficult for any player to move out of there without him sanctioning it.
Rangers were very impressive last season and it was really clear that they had an intense hunger to win the title.
Knowing Stevie, he will be driving that message again and, if he can hang on to his key players, they are on a good thing.
Connor Goldson is moving into the last year of his contract and, from experience, when that happens there does feel like an inevitability that the player will leave.
In many people’s eyes, he was last season’s player of the year. There
are certain players Stevie was happy to rest and rotate. Goldson always played.
For me, 1s, 5s and 9s are the key players — goalkeeper, centre-back and striker. You want to keep a leader like Goldson in the building.
For that creative spark, Ryan Kent is so important. He is on a long-term contract and it may even make business sense to hang on to him as he increases in value.
Alfredo Morelos has been tipped for a move for what seems like years. I don’t know the boy or what he’s thinking, but I’m pretty sure his agents will be working to try to get him as good a move as possible.
But Rangers can provide Morelos with so much. Financially, he will be looked after. There’s an opportunity to play in the Champions League and, hopefully very soon, he will be back playing in front of 50,000 supporters who adore him.
If I was Stevie and knew I could keep him onside and happy, I would not want to lose Morelos.
Last season, I thought he was a fantastic team player. He chased lost causes, pulled defenders out of position. He helped the team even when he wasn’t the main beneficiary of that work.
It’s been said Rangers benefited from playing behind closed doors but I would argue there was more pressure on that Rangers side then there has been for a long time.
And now that they have stopped Celtic winning ten in a row, the fans will be right behind them.
And if Rangers have real stability, CELTIC have so much work to do.
Ange Postecoglou can only do so much. He needs help from above to move out the players who do not want to be there and get new ones in quickly. He clearly knows what he wants. They have signed some unknown players but the early signs are encouraging.
Liel Abada (below) came in last Tuesday and made a bright impression, scoring his goal against Midtjylland.
There’s a compelling argument for signing more tried-and-tested players, two or three between the ages of 24 and 29.
Look back at Martin O’Neill’s team — battle-hardened guys like Chris Sutton, Neil Lennon and John Hartson coming in. Both Kyogo Furuhashi and Carl Starfelt fit within that age bracket and the hope will be that they settle quickly. Celtic are coming from a long way behind but it’s not beyond the realms of possibility that they can put a squad together and find that synergy and connection.
Postecoglou looks like a manager who will work hard on that. I like the sound of him and I have spoken to a few people who have worked under him and they are all impressed — but there is such a turnover required. While it’s unfair to attribute Rangers’ success to a lack of crowds, I think it did have an effect on Celtic last season.
A big Celtic crowd brings an intensity and it can apply pressure to players and referees. My take on it is that playing in front of 60,000 is part of the lure to guys like Odsonne Edouard.
Top players thrive and improve in front of an audience and I think having a crowd back in will get the juices flowing again. So we can expect a higher level of performance from Celtic this season.
When I was Aberdeen manager, I took some stick for saying Celtic and Rangers’ level needed to come down for another team to challenge. Either that or you’d have to throw a lot of money at it.
The title is rarely won below 80-90 points. For another club to get close over a 38-game season would take something monumental.
HIBS finished third last season and I was really impressed with Kevin Nisbet. Coming from Dunfermline, I had him down as a penalty-box striker, somebody who could maybe work a wee bit harder for his team.
But I was wrong. He has been way more than that. He showed intelligence to come and link the play, he looked after the ball and he became more and more confident. He is now a Scotland international player, too, so his game is in a very good place. It’s just whether Hibs can hold on to him.
Hibs manager Jack Ross’s problem is similar to Gerrard. He needs stability, to hang on to his best players.
ABERDEEN have made more changes. I think Scott Brown is a brilliant signing.
I couldn’t be more impressed with him as a boy. We have had our moments, one in particular following a Scottish Cup final at Hampden, but that’s because we would both have done anything to see our teams win.
I would have loved to manage him. He was the driving force of so many Celtic teams.
He still has a lot to offer. I would be interested to know if Postecoglou would have preferred to still have him at Celtic because managers are automatically drawn to that type.
Aberdeen have also brought in Declan Gallagher and Jay Emmanuel-Thomas. There is certainly ability and experience there to go and achieve the desired results.
When last season’s Manager-of-theYear awards were announced, I felt sorry for ST JOHNSTONE boss Callum Davidson. I know the voting is always done before the Scottish Cup final but this year, when there were no indoor events, no dinners, why not wait an extra week or two before deciding?
I’m not saying Stevie wasn’t a worthy winner for what he did with Rangers domestically and in Europe but for a non-Old Firm team to win two cups? It’s hard to argue against that.
Callum’s biggest problem this term will be holding on to his key players like Ali McCann, Jamie McCart and Jason Kerr but they are in good shape.
LIVINGSTON were such tough opponents again last season. The wheels came off a wee bit towards
the end although that might have been to do with fatigue.
But they were a top-six club, they got to a cup final and manager Davie Martindale certainly deserves credit for that.
They’ve suffered a couple of losses. Jon Guthrie was so important to them at the back and Jay Emmanuel-Thomas has gone to Aberdeen. They’ve managed to get Bruce Anderson in and he could be a real success. He’s a finisher and he could be vital for them.
I’ve been particularly impressed with Jim Goodwin’s recruitment at ST MIRREN.
Charles Dunne, Greg Kiltie and Alan Power are three players I considered taking to Aberdeen. I have always liked Kiltie and he is getting better. As a free agent, he would have been very attractive to most clubs. I have always liked Dunne and he can play left-back, left centre-back and left of a three. I like his enthusiasm and pace.
Curtis Main had injury problems at Aberdeen and struggled to get in ahead of Sam Cosgrove but I feel if he finds a home and gets a run, he will score goals.
If they hold on to Jamie McGrath and keep Eamonn Brophy fit, it could be pivotal — he is a recognised Premiership striker and an internationalist at a great age.
St Mirren did well last season and fell just short of the top six. They should have every confidence of breaking into that top half.
MOTHERWELL have had a huge turnover. Graham Alexander would have loved to keep Allan Campbell, Declan Gallagher and Devante Cole. I spoke to him recently and know he’s keen to bring a few more in.
The League Cup can catch teams short and they had been digging out results before Wednesday’s defeat to Airdrie, which I watched in person. They are still short and searching for improvement.
I don’t know Tam Courts but the people at DUNDEE UNITED have the benefit of seeing him up close. I watched their game against Kelty as they navigated the group stages. They haven’t lost too many players from a competitive squad.
Charlie Mulgrew will be a great signing, on and off the pitch. He will be invaluable to the manager. There’s a maybe an added element of risk in appointing a young manager but nobody knows him better than the people who work there.
After consolidating following last year’s promotion, the challenge at Tannadice is to try and break into the top six.
There’s been a lot of change at ROSS COUNTY with some of their recognisable players leaving, guys like Michael Gardyne and Iain Vigurs.
Malky Mackay (right) seems desperate to put his stamp on the club. He has contacts down the road and, in Roy MacGregor, he has a chairman who tends to back his managers.
I did my pro licence with Malky years ago. We went over to Italy and had five or six days at Sampdoria together.
Out of everybody on the course, he was an impressive guy. And as a playing opponent, he was very bullish and confident in himself.
It’s now eight years since he lost his job at Cardiff. Everybody makes mistakes and he’s paid his dues.
He’s most recently been working as performance director at the SFA but he has trained to be a manager and deserves the opportunity to be what he is. He has managed at Premier League level in England.
County might just benefit from that depth of knowledge and experience.
HEARTS enter the season facing high expectations. You saw it with Dundee United last season where there were some grumbles that they didn’t make the top half.
Some clubs can justifiably say they just want to stay up, but that’s not enough for Hearts. And they have fallen short for many years, despite enjoying certain advantages.
Across the city, Jack has done well with Hibs, finishing third and getting into Europe.
So Europe will be the bare minimum for a lot of the Hearts supporters.
Robbie Neilson has done the job he was asked to do by getting them up. Now they want to establish themselves in the top six. There should be a lot of optimism at Tynecastle. But having been up and down, they need to make the right decisions to stay at the top end of the Premiership. Robbie has done the first part and very comfortably. Now he needs the support in the transfer market to make that challenge more doable. I saw DUNDEE’S two play-off performances against Kilmarnock and they will take confidence from those games.
They look a strong team. There is a good connection between the board and a young manager in James McPake, which helps.
They also have Charlie Adam. His ability at set-plays, time and again on the money, is an asset. Also his personality, how he wants to put his foot on the ball and take part in the game — that attitude rubs off on others.
I’ve spoken to him and I know it means a lot for him to play for Dundee in the Premiership.
They might have to get used to losing a few more games than they did last season but I think they can look forward with a lot of confidence. Predictions at both ends of the table are tricky at this stage. Ask me again after next month’s transfer deadline...
the fans down today.’ The allegations against Griffiths meant that for the second year running he was absent from the club’s pre-season training camp.
Last year, Neil Lennon omitted the striker from a trip to France after he reported back from lockdown out of condition.
‘Maybe it is a big challenge for him but that’s what he wanted,’ added Postecoglou.
‘He didn’t have to come back. But he wanted to play for the club again. He wanted to contribute. When you make that decision, you embrace everything that comes along with it.’
Postecoglou insisted he would not be reading too much into the margin of yesterday’s defeat to Premier League opponents — especially as he had changed his entire team by the time West Ham scored their fifth and sixth goals.
The Australian reported no fresh injury problems as he looks ahead to the second leg of the Champions League qualifier against Midtjylland on Wednesday. Striker Albian Ajeti was posted missing yesterday but, other than the suspension that will rule out Nir Bitton following his red card against the Danes last week, Postecoglou expects to have much the same options at his disposal.
He added: ‘We have a clean bill of health tonight, so everyone will be available. Ajeti had a knock, so missed out and Olly (Ntcham) just wasn’t ready today.’
The sale of Kristoffer Ajer to Brentford last week coincided with the arrival of Swedish defender Carl Starfelt, who won’t be available until the next round of qualifying. Japanese striker Kyogo Furuhashi is in a similar situation.
‘The problem right now is that we’ve signed two who we can’t even use,’ said Postecoglou. ‘For me, we still need another few players to come in. We don’t have any other options in defence.
Stephen Welsh was partnered by 18-year-old Dane Murray at the heart of an understrength back line that had Tony Ralston and Greg Taylor as full-backs and the much-maligned Vasilis Barkas in goal.
‘The defence was okay the other night but it wasn’t great today,’ admitted the manager. ‘It’s an area we need to keep focusing on. Maybe playing against better quality we shied away from certain things.
‘Collectively, we didn’t stick to our task defensively. We know they’re young and understand they’ll make mistakes. But they didn’t have good enough support around them.’