The Scottish Mail on Sunday
McCann was the heartbeat as St Johnstone did cup double... I just wish Celtic or Rangers had signed him
FROM experience, I know that the last fortnight of the transfer window can be a fraught affair as the hoo-ha and speculation intensifies. You’d have to say my old club Aberdeen have backed Stephen Glass strongly in both recruitment and player retention, to the extent where third place will be the very clear target.
Similarly, Ange Postecoglou has been given the scope to bring in a full team’s worth of players at Celtic, a rebuild that was sorely needed after last season’s struggles.
I also think St Mirren have signed really well.
Steven Gerrard will just be happy to have come out of the window without losing any mainstays from Rangers’ title-winning team, likewise Jack Ross has held on to Hibs trio Martin Boyle, Ryan Porteous and Kevin Nisbet.
Sometimes your best hope is to emerge beyond the deadline with a squad that is no weaker than before.
Which brings us to St Johnstone. Last season, Callum Davidson created history by leading the club to League and Scottish Cup victories. Jason Kerr and Ali McCann were his two best players — the captain and heartbeat of the team respectively.
The St Johnstone fans have gone from celebrating a season of highs to waking up on Wednesday morning knowing both had gone.
Kerr was moving into the last year of his contract, hence the board’s decision to accept Wigan’s £600,000 deadline-day offer. But if McCann
has gone for the money
If McCann has gone for £1m with a sell-on fee, Preston have got a steal
that is reported — £1million with a sell-on fee — then Preston have got a steal.
McCann lacks a bit of finesse and quality with his final pass and he could probably score more goals, but he has everything else.
He handled St Johnstone’s European games and is now an international performer with Northern Ireland.
He is a responsible midfielder, a real competitor who knows his job and is good on the ball. I have played and managed in the English Championship and he will deal with that fine.
I am just surprised and disappointed that neither player has stayed in the Scottish league.
McCann would have been an easy one for Celtic or Rangers to take and such a hard one for Callum to replace.
I’d expect the big five — the Glasgow and Edinburgh clubs plus Aberdeen — to finish in the top half and so the challenge for Callum will be to land that last spot.
You can contrast St Johnstone’s window with that of Aberdeen, who have rejected a couple of strong offers for players like Lewis Ferguson. I think that shows their intent. They have not lost any of the senior players and they have made strong investment.
After being dumped out of Europe by Qarabag on the Thursday night, they delivered good news over the next 48 hours — Marley Watkins, Matty Longstaff and David Bates. Three guys who have come in with a good pedigree.
Marley is a boy I know. He had a great impact on our team while he was with us and his injury really set us back.
Longstaff looks a proper midfielder and Aberdeen could be a really good fit for him.
Bates is a centre-back of whom a lot was expected a couple of years ago. He has maybe lost his way a little and he needs to go and play regularly. With the injury to Andy Considine, he gives them options at the back.
Aberdeen now have options and strength in depth. Other clubs will be looking on with envy and there will be a lot expected of them as a consequence.
Being put out of the League Cup by Raith Rovers wasn’t ideal but they have three quarters of the campaign to go and they should be optimistic.
Hearts have also had a good transfer window and will be quietly patting themselves on the back.
Getting Beni Baningime from Everton has been an especially impressive piece of business. He went straight into the team for that first league game against Celtic and has hardly put a foot wrong.
Robbie Neilson has not made a raft of signings but, on the face of it, he has added players who will improve the starting XI.
We all assumed that Hibs would lose at least one of Boyle, Porteous and Nisbet and keeping them will be as good as making signings. They have recruited well, too.
I was keen on Jake Doyle-Hayes when I was at Aberdeen and I also tried to take James Scott on loan in January. The fact they tried to get Jamie McGrath late suggests the window has not been perfect for Jack but he will feel grateful to have retained the squad’s strength.
I’m sure that’s how Gerrard is feeling. Rangers have let Cedric Itten and Nikola Katic go out on loan but Stevie will be breathing a sigh of relief that he has kept his main players.
Certainly, agents will have been agitating because it is their job to move players. And the club may have been wanting to bring money in. As a manager, you sometimes just need the window to shut so you can settle down the squad.
From Stevie’s point of view, it has been a really good window. Whether the board see it that way is another matter. He has been empowered by winning the league and I’m sure he will have fought hard to keep his best players.
Rangers have won one trophy in ten years. Now they have broken the seal on that and given optimism back to their supporters it’s important the club backs the manager to go and build a period of success. Stevie will be pleased he can now knuckle down, especially on the back of the Old Firm victory. Celtic have clearly tried to cash in their chips. Ryan Christie and Odsonne Edouard were running out of contract and they have done deals that brought money in.
They have also spent money on replacements. The difficulty for Postecoglou is that he has to try and gel it all together.
What he now has is the knowledge that everybody in that building wants to be there and is focused.
James McCarthy is not the same personality as Scott Brown but he will command instant respect through his experience and ability. The same with Joe Hart.
You might argue that Celtic have rolled the dice with those two, taken a gamble by going against the model of signing young, up-and-coming players.
But sometimes you need a couple of battle-hardened, experienced players to settle things down. And seeing Hart and McCarthy walk through the door would have been a shot in the arm to players like Callum McGregor and James Forrest.
If McCarthy can stay injury-free, he can have a real influence on the team and, in turn, I think he would allow McGregor to play where he is slightly more effective.
Celtic have offloaded Leigh Griffiths (left) and Dundee could now have a player who makes a real difference on their hands.
Griffiths sounds hungry and motivated to prove himself. And if he can back that up, Dundee have stolen a march on a lot of teams, not just in the bottom half of the league.
Assuming Aberdeen join the
Glasgow and Edinburgh clubs in making the top six, I can see Dundee, Motherwell and St Mirren challenging St Johnstone for that last spot.
St Mirren have made a slow start but that doesn’t detract from the fact Jim Goodwin has made good signings and held on to McGrath at the last minute.
Dundee United will try to become that top-six team, too, but I can see them falling short.
Davie Martindale has come out and said Livingston’s objective is to finish tenth and you can understand the rationale of that.
Similarly, Malky Mackay will look to blend a team’s worth of new players into a unit capable of avoiding the relegation fight.
Back in July, I declined from making a concrete prediction for the title. Now, though, it’s time to get off the fence.
If Rangers retain their hunger, they are the team to beat. They are more settled and have the squad to cope better.
I have been hugely impressed by the work Postecoglou has done in a short time. He has imposed himself and deserves credit for getting the team to its current level.
But Celtic still need to prove to themselves that they can go and win a game that is not going their way — a challenge they have faced at Tynecastle, Ibrox and even AZ Alkmaar away.
It will be close but, for my money, it’s Rangers who will win the league.