And so another season of Scottish football has drawn to a close, and – as has become the standard – with that has come another dose of bitter disappointment for Dundee United fans.
Yes, once again we’ve failed to achieve promotion through the playoffs and for the fourth consecutive year we will be competing in the second tier of Scottish football.
But because I’m now so used to Dundee United disappointing me, I think I’m already over any heartache from yesterday’s pitiful penalty shootout defeat to St. Mirren and instead am now looking ahead to a new season where this time, I’m confident that maybe…just maybe…we can go all the way and win the league outright.
As Robbie Neilson said in his post-match interviews yesterday, the signs are there that Dundee United are finally moving in the right direction and with the bulk of next season’s squad already in place – unlike previous years where every summer has seen a massive rebuild – I think Arabs have every right to expect that this time we’re in with a better chance.
And it’s not just about us either; by the looks of things some of the other Championship sides will be operating on smaller budgets than this season and have lost – or potentially will lose – some of their best players. Now sure, we don’t know how they will recruit, but it’s not a stretch to imagine that Ayr United will be a weaker side and the likes of Inverness CT might still lose some of their better players.
Unlike previous seasons, there’s also no other team well placed to go on a good run or prove a surprise package. There isn’t a team spending the relative big bucks like Ross County, nor is there a full-time team coming up from League One who are used to winning and who can carry that into a new season like Livingston or Ayr.
As for Dundee? Well I’m not just saying this because they are our rivals – unlike some Dundee fans I know I’m not consumed by hatred of the team from across the street – but I think they might struggle. It’s certainly not unusual for the relegated team from the Premiership to take more than one summer to get over the feeling of negativity that comes with demotion, and Dundee unquestionably deserved to go down.
Like I say, we don’t know how teams will recruit so it’s daft to make absolute predictions, but at the very least things look positive for United.
What of this season though? Here’s how I rate the players and staff who were part of Dundee United in 2018/19 and if they are still part of the club, I’ll say if I think we should keep them or punt them.
The Playing Squad
Benjamin Siegrist: The big Swiss keeper has had a solid end to the season with a string of good displays in the playoffs, but he’s also a player with the potential to make one major blunder in every game. Even in the away leg of the playoff semi-final a daft mistake where he left the goal open was lucky not to be punished by Inverness. He’s also murder in a penalty shootout. I would say he’s worth retaining but we definitely need another goalkeeper signed to challenge him. Score: 6/10
Matej Rakovan: An absolute haddie of a goalkeeper. Did he ever have a good game? One might ask why he was ever given a start ahead of Siegrist, but then you’ve got to remember who was the manager at the time. Score: 2/10.
Ross Laidlaw: The only time I saw him play was in a 7-0 reserve team victory against Dundee. He’ll return to Hibs and I doubt there’s even the remotest chance of him coming back. Score: n/a
The Centre Backs
Mark Reynolds: Anyone who watched the playoff games will hold their hands up and say he is far from the best when it comes to distribution, but as a defender, he’s more than good enough for the Scottish Championship and has brought some stability to a back line that has been shaky for a long time. Though a three year deal might be a bit much, having him signed up for next season is huge for us. Score: 8/10.
Mark Connolly: A lot of people consider him a bombscare, and yes, he made a crucial error yesterday and probably should have been sent off too, but in the 15 games he played, we only conceded 11 goals. It would be churlish not to give him some credit for that. He’s formed a solid partnership with Reynolds and together I have confidence they will do a good job next season. That being said, if we can sign a better centre back as first choice alongside Reynolds then he’d be a capable reserve option on the bench. Score: 7/10
Rachid Bouhenna: Though the Moroccan has primarily appeared at centre back this season, I think the playoffs showed he’s perhaps better deployed in midfield. In defence, he’s had some dodgy moments and he sometimes wants more time on the ball there than he is allowed to have. I’d say that with one more year left to run on his contract he’s a player worth keeping for the Championship. Had we been promoted though, I don’t think he’d have coped with the step up in quality. Score: 6/10
William Edjenguele: I think the fairest way to describe big Edje is that he is a limited player who is good enough to play in the Championship but is not good enough to play in a team that covets winning the Championship. Having already left the club, the question of whether to keep him is moot, but I think it’s worth looking back to his performances against Queen of the South and Ross County last November where he was a star player and was largely responsible for the shutouts. At the same time, he was also part of the defence that shipped five goals to Ayr the same month. I wish him well, but his time was up. Score: 4/10
Frederic Frans: I thought he’d be a good signing, but he really hasn’t been. In fact, I’d go as far as to say he’s been our worst centre back of the season. Though he made the bench in the Playoff matches, he’s one player who I’d like to see us part ways with in the summer. Not only does he lack ability, but he also lacks heart, which goes some way to explain why he was bombed out of the side before his injury. Score: 3/10
Callum Booth: I quite like Booth; he’s a decent defender and is probably the closest thing United have to a complete fullback. By that I mean he can both defend and attack…to an extent. Going into next season, there is no question that if Dundee United want to improve, a new left back is most definitely required. I would keep him as a backup, but I certainly wouldn’t be heartbroken if he was to find a new club. Score: 6/10
Paul Watson: For a signing that largely underwhelmed the fanbase, Watson has done alright as a defender and has even chipped in with some goals from set pieces, but he’s not a natural right back in terms of speed or attacking prowess and that has shown across the season. I don’t doubt for a moment that he’s got a good attitude but it’s the same issue as Booth; United need to move on from players of his standard if they want to improve. Score: 6/10
Charlie Seaman: Seaman is the opposite of Watson in that I thought he was pretty decent in an attacking sense but wasn’t a good defender. He might prove to be reasonable in the future but not with us. Score: 5/10
Stewart Murdoch: I’m going to be nice about it and say the same thing here as I said about Edjenguele. Murdoch as a utility player is good enough for the Championship, but nowhere near good enough for a team who wants to win it. Another player who was probably a decent pro, but didn’t have a winning attitude. He won’t be missed. Score: 3/10.
Calum Butcher: There’s always a risk that Calum Butcher will be sent off at any moment in a game, but he’s exactly the sort of player I want in my team. He’s got ability, he takes no prisoners and he’s been a massive improvement on what came before him. A sure fire starter next season. Score: 7/10.
Ian Harkes: Harkes is a tidy player and has got a good engine, but I can’t help but think he lacks a cutting edge; there’s just something missing with him. In the playoff games, he did practically nothing, and even though you might argue the defenders bypassed him by hoofing the ball upfield, I want a central midfielder – especially one who is expected to be creative – to take hold of the game more. He needs to bulk up in the summer and be coached to go in harder and be braver in taking chances. There’s a player there, but at this moment in time, I think we need a better central midfielder to start alongside Butcher. Score: 6/10
Sam Stanton: Stanton is the sort of player who will look good on a YouTube highlight reel. The reality is though that he goes missing for large portions of games and is neither strong enough to be a good defensive minded midfielder nor creative enough to be a starting attacking central midfielder. And he’s hopeless out wide. Again, he’s good enough to play in the Championship but not to win it. Time to go, Sam. Score: 4/10
Christophe Rabbitsch: Now let me preface this by saying that I don’t think Rabbitsch is an especially good player or a player I want us to keep, because he’s not, but I don’t think I’ve ever seen a United player more unfairly maligned for his performances relative to the players around him than the young Austrian. On the ball, he was murder – it was like he’d never kicked a football in his life – but off it, he would at least hassle the opposition into making mistakes and also make positive runs to move our play forward. Early in the season I spoke to some Next Opposition Analysts and Scouts hired by other clubs in the league who honestly thought he was one of our best players at the time. But people see what they want to see, and at the time people – the sort of people who accuse anyone who disagrees with them as “knowing nothing about futba” – saw a broken down and barely mobile Fraser Fyvie and a flattering to deceive Sam Stanton as vastly superior. I don’t agree with that. Like I say, I’m not saying Rabbitsch was a player – and considering he’s still employed by the club I hope we manage to offload him ASAP – but I do think he was slightly better at what he was supposed to do than some people gave him credit for. Score: 4/10.
Morgaro Gomis: Rolled back the years vs Montrose and then…people realised he was playing against Montrose. He’s finished at any reasonable level. Score: 3/10.
Fraser Fyvie: It’s a real shame, but the reality is that Fraser Fyvie is also finished. Much was expected of him when he made his return to the side, but you could see his legs were gone and he was also hesitant to go into challenges for fear of hurting himself again. He got by on reputation for a little bit in the eyes of some, but he shouldn’t have. I don’t think he had one good game this season. Score: 2/10.
Adam Barton: Adam Barton is potentially one of the worst players to ever play for Dundee United. Yes, he’s the sort of player who would be decent if he wasn’t actually playing against anyone, because he had reasonable control of the ball, but there’s more to football than that. He was disinterested, he had absolutely no fight in him and – as we saw in the away draw against Alloa – if a team set out to bully him then he would collapse like a house of cards in a hurricane. Incredibly he’s still under contract, so let’s hope that’s resolved fast. Score: 1/10.
Paul McMullan: Our most improved player of the season. He still lacks the ability to pass or cross the ball with that much accuracy but it looks to me like he’s been coached to stick to his strengths. When he has the ball at his feet and just runs with it, he’s a terrifying prospect for Championship clubs to play against. I look forward to seeing him play next season. Score: 8/10.
Jamie Robson: I stand by my long-held belief that Jamie Robson is an awful left back. He’s improved in that area of the park slightly, but you can see when he plays there that teams clearly target him as the weak link in the side. Jamie Robson as a left winger though is a player I have a hell of a lot of time for. Playing further up the field, Robson is a throwback to the sort of winger you don’t really see anymore. He sticks to the line, he runs with the ball, he puts in the cross and he rarely seems to run out of energy. If he can keep improving in that position then he’d be a worthy addition to the squad for 19/20. Score: 7/10 (but 3/10 if judged as a defender)
Peter Pawlett: A recurring knee injury is the likely cause for this, but I don’t think we’ve seen anywhere near the best that Pawlett has to offer. He’s shown glimpses of it, but too often he’s just disappeared from games. He’s a player who will be part of the squad for next season and if he can improve I’m sure he’ll stake a claim for a regular first team place, but I wouldn’t be happy going into the season with just him and the two guys above. Score: 6/10
Cammy Smith: There’s a part of me that thinks Cammy Smith was signed by Neilson before he realised he was going to sign Peter Pawlett. Ironically, I think Cammy Smith was also signed by Ray McKinnon before he realised he was going to sign Tony Andreu. There’s no question that Smith did well for St. Mirren, so we know he’s good enough for this division, but at United…he just doesn’t seem to do the job. To be fair he has been struggling with injury in recent months so he could be a different player after a pre-season, but I’d be surprised if he turns out to be a quality signing. If there’s a chance to part with him, we should. Score: 5/10.
Fraser Aird: There’s no doubting his talent to cross a ball or to deliver a mean set-piece but Aird does not have the work rate or desire to be a useful player to a team fighting at either end of the table, as shown by his lack of appearances on loan for Queen of the South. One to punt to a team like Morton. Score: 5/10.
Aidan Nesbitt: Nesbitt is the classic Cathro-esque player. He’s got ability with the ball at his feet, but he’s one of these vague ‘Number 10’ types who doesn’t seem to fit into anything other than a very specific system. Out wide he looked like a fish out of water. Considering how highly he was regarded as a kid at Celtic, the 22-year-old is running out of time to make his mark on the game. It won’t be with us anyway. Score: 3/10.
Matty Smith: Sorry, but he just doesn’t have it; he offers nothing. He gets tarred with the brush of being a ‘youngster’ and yet he’s less than a year younger than Paul McMullan. I don’t think he’ll make it at United or as a full time professional. Let’s get him punted. Score: 3/10.
Yannick Loemba: Ah Yannick; the man the majority raved about initially because he posed for selfies. Here’s the thing; Yannick Loemba is not a bad footballer, but he is also not even remotely suited to playing Scottish football. In his appearances, he wanted far more time on the ball than opposition teams would allow and then he became flustered and clearly got into his own head. Like Darko Bodul, Loemba is probably a human highlight reel in training, but on the pitch in the Championship he was comically bad. Let’s hope he moves on ASAP. Score: 3/10.
Billy King: Shite. Score. 2/10
Logan Chalmers: Have not seen enough of him to judge, but I sense a Matty Smith 2.0 in the making. Score: n/a
Paval Safranko: Time for me to put on my tin hat. I don’t think Pavol Safranko is as good as some of our fans make out. He has talent and his work rate is commendable but there have been so many games this season where he has not turned up. Look at the Playoff final as an example of this. When he came on at Tannadice, we lost any attacking threat because McKenzie bullied him. Yesterday he started and when he played up front he didn’t make a dent. People make excuses for him and say “Yeah but he was pushed out wide so he shouldn’t be judged on that”. But I am judging Safranko more harshly because to keep him, we’d have to pay a six-figure fee. Is he worth that? No, he’s not. I look at games like the 1-2 defeat to Queen of the South where he spurned a handful of clear cut chances, and the subsequent impact that had on our season. A team that covets the Championship title needs a player who will score more than the 12 league goals he managed (equal 4th top scorer in the league with Zak Rudden and behind Dobbie, Shankland and Mckay). Furthermore, he’s scored fewer league goals this season than Scott McDonald did last and Andreu did the year before. If he was our player I’d say I was happy to keep him but that we’d need another striker to get more goals. When he’s not our player and his price tag is into six figures, then I’m sorry, we could get someone better for cheaper. They might just not have a catchy song to go with them. Score: 7/10
Nicky Clark: Clark has shown himself to be a good goal poacher, but I don’t think he’s been deployed in the right part of the pitch to take advantage of that. Often playing in the Number 10 position, I haven’t seen enough skill on the ball to warrant him being a first choice player for next season. That being said, as a striker coming off the bench or as part of a 4-4-2 I’d definitely keep him. Score: 6/10.
Osman Sow: It’s clear that Sow is a divisive figure. When opinions of footballers are so often based on how they present themselves on the pitch, it’s little wonder that some supporters don’t rate him. He looks disinterested and his running style is unusual to say the least. When there’s a player like Safranko running himself into the ground in front of our eyes, then Osman Sow’s hands on hips style does not look good. But I think there’s a player in there. Despite his unusual style of control, he often manages to trap it (eventually) and then pass it on to a teammate to progress play. He’s also got pace and a strong shot. But here’s the thing; I am basing my opinion on Sow’s performances to some degree on the hope/expectation he will improve after a full pre-season. Because of that – and because he is contracted to us next season already – I’m aware I’m being as lenient to him as I am being harsh on Safranko. If however what we’ve seen so far from Sow is the best we’ll ever get, then he’s not good enough. Score: 5/10.
Craig Curran: Imagine signing him on a three-year deal? Imagine another club then taking over that contract? Jesus. Is it any wonder Dundee were relegated? Score: 2/10.
Robbie Neilson: The problem with judging how good the manager is is that you want to compare him to Steve Clarke. At Kilmarnock, Clarke took over a side that looked doomed to a relegation battle and improved the same group of players to the point where they finished top six. That was exceptional. But not every manager is that good, and so people will constantly look to the potential of there being someone else out there who could do the job Clarke has done. Robbie Neilson is not perfect; his tactics can be negative and rigid and some of his signings have failed to deliver. Beyond that, he was unable to improve the squad Csaba Laszlo assembled without a costly rebuild. But while he may not have a spotless record, he is good. He has improved some players, he’s identified weaknesses and he seems to be a popular man around Tannadice. While he has failed to get us promoted this time, I have confidence he will do it next time. Score: 7/10.
Csaba Laszlo: The unfortunate thing about Csaba Laszlo is that he seemed like a really nice guy and the sort of person you’d want to do well. But let’s be honest; he was absolutely hopeless. He was tactically unaware, he signed some awful players to absurd contracts and he could not get his message across to the side. If we had started the season with any other manager, I think we’d have been promoted. Score: 2/10
Mark Ogren: Thanks to his investment and the people he has put in charge of running the club, Dundee United are most definitely on the up. There’s a feel-good factor around the club and it’s down to him and his regime. I’m happy and confident for now under his leadership. Score: 9/10
Mike Martin: The one positive thing you can say about Mike Martin is that he at least identified some problems that the club had. Ultimately though he made a number of other costly mistakes, including the nice-in-theory-but-unworkable-in-reality 30 mile limit for players. The biggest mistake though was that he couldn’t see that Laszlo should have gone at the end of season 17/18. That one decision undoubtedly cost us the league. Score: 2/10
So with all of that said, who should still be in the squad next season, who do we need to punt who hasn’t already gone and what areas do we need to improve?
Keep: Benjamin Siegrist, Mark Reynolds, Mark Connolly, Rachid Bouhenna, Calum Butcher, Ian Harkes, Paul McMullan, Jamie Robson, Peter Pawlett, Nicky Clarke, Osman Sow (but if he’s not showing more by August, he should be moved on)
Look To Replace (But keep if need be): Callum Booth, Paul Watson, Cammy Smith
Move On: Frederic Frans, Sam Stanton, Christophe Rabbitsch, Adam Barton, Fraser Aird, Matty Smith, Yannick Loemba
Don’t Sign: Ross Laidlaw, Charlie Seaman, Pavol Safranko
As always, all opinions are welcome. Let me know if you agree or disagree.