I’m not usually a fan of the January transfer window. It’s normally when I’ll scout around for players to pick up on a free transfer to join in the summer as I’m sure you all do as well. I came into January 2017 relatively happy with the squad. As we went into the first week of the window, and I actually put some proper thought behind it, and evaluated the squad. It was time for some change. I had a bit of cash to spend, from our strong league finish last season plus our two cup wins, that I hadn’t fully utilised in the summer as I wanted to be cautious. We brought in players, we seemingly strengthened but it was time to throw caution to the wind.
First up, our outgoings. There was only two, but they were pretty major.
Niall McGinn leaves the club to join Omonoia. He was our first choice left inside forward last season, and bagged 15 goals in all competitions. The arrival of Ryan Fraser this season pushed McGinn down the pecking order. His game time decreased and so did the quality of his performances when he was called upon. At 29 years old, he’d reached the point to start considering a player’s future at a club, and we still had an opportunity to get some money for him. He also didn’t count towards any of the squad rules, either being trained at the club, or in Scotland. A £1m fee, and he was on his way.
Bear with me on this one. Jonny Hayes was one of the standout performers of my first season at the club, scoring 18 goals from the right inside forward slot. This season, before leaving the club, he was actually our top scorer overall, with 17 goals in 25 games in all competitions. I said bear with me. Similarly to McGinn, he’s 29 and he didn’t count towards any of our necessary squad rules. I was disappointed that there wasn’t more interest in him to be honest, and ideally I would have preferred not to sell him to one of our closest rivals in the league. I was also disappointed with the final fee we got for him, £625k.
£1.6m recouped for selling two 29 year olds. Not bad on the face of it, it’ll do.
I mentioned caution was thrown to the wind. You’ve seen we sold two stalwarts of last season’s domestic cup double winning squad. But who joined the club in January?
It wasn’t ideal to sell Hayes to Hearts, but I accepted it as I’d raided them for Jamie Walker. I mentioned Ryan Fraser had usurped McGinn from the starting XI, so with selling McGinn, I still needed some strength in depth on the wings. Walker fits the bill with being trained in Scotland, and he’d recorded 14 assists in 30 games so far with Hearts, which stands out instantly for me. However, I did also take a leaf out of my good friend Chris Darwen’s book and set up some KPI views to use when searching for players. Alongside that assist tally, Walker also stood out on his key pass numbers, his pass completion ratio, his shots on target ratio and his shots on target per 90mins. He joins on a £1.6m deal.
With Hayes joining McGinn out of the back door at Pittodrie, we suddenly looked a bit light in the inside forward positions. Greg Kiltie joins Walker to bolster our options for a significant outlay of £2.5m. He’s young, he’s been trained in Scotland, and his figures in line with my KPIs looked great too. He’d recorded 12 assists in 22 games so far for Kilmarnock. He also gives us another option if we were to shift our approach in any way, he’s predominantly an out and out winger. I’ve got absolutely no problem at all playing players not in their preferred position, and I won’t hesitate to play a right footed player in the right inside forward slot either. I’m all about forced versatility!
Central defence was another area I’d identified that we needed to strengthen in. No players left, but our preferred options there, Ash Taylor (26), Mark Reynolds (29) and Andy Considine (30) aren’t getting any younger. Jack Baird, our youngest option in the position, won’t ever be good enough to be considered first choice, so I went on the hunt. John Souttar has long been a player with great potential in Football Manager, and I’ve signed him more than a few times in the last few versions. £1.6m was enough to part him from league rivals Hearts.
£5.7m is a relatively large outlay for 3 players in Scotland, but with the reputation of the league continually increasing and the premium for Scottish players rising, it had to be done.