Scottish clubs have to be smarter in the transfer market. While Premier League sides are free to spurge tens of millions on players not even good enough for their first team, those north of the border are limited by parameters so much more restrictive. By Scottish standards, though, this month has witnessed a spree.
With Celtic and Rangers tied on 42 points at the top of the Scottish Premiership table (Celtic still hold a game in-hand), an arms race has ensued. There have been movements elsewhere in the division, with Motherwell re-signing Ross McCormack and Hibernian adding Ryan Gauld to their squad, but it’s the two Glasgow rivals who have made most headlines.
Victory for Celtic in the Old Firm derby on December 29 would have changed the dynamic of the race of the top of the Scottish Premiership table. The Hoops have strolled to seventh straight championships and with a six point lead, complete with a game in-hand, it would have been difficult to envisage anything other than another title procession.
However, Rangers’ win, their first in the league over Celtic in 13 attempts, has thrown them straight into the thick of a title race. Before the start of the season, the Ibrox side would have settled for merely closing the gap on their rivals, but now they sense weakness in Brendan Rodgers’ side. They sense an opportunity.
This has led the Gers to go all out in this transfer window. They have secured the return of Steven Davis from Southampton, with Jermain Defoe also joining the Govan club for 18 months. This will give Steven Gerrard some additional experience and pedigree to work with. Defoe, in particular, could, if he can find form and fitness, be a game changer.
On top of this, Rangers have signed Dundee midfielder Glen Kamara and Kilmarnock winger Jordan Jones on pre-contracts. There’s also speculation that they could move for Adam Lallana, with the England international struggling for game time at Liverpool. This is a signing that would exceed even Defoe’s in terms of box office value.
Celtic have made a few signings of their own, although they have focused on potential over experience. US international forward Timothy Weah has signed on loan from Paris Saint-Germain, with Oliver Burke, a winger not so long ago hyped as Scottish football’s next big thing, has also signed on loan from West Brom.
£2 million was spent on capturing Ivorian striker Vakoun Issouf Bayo, giving the Scottish champions some much-needed depth up front, and now the Hoops are being linked with a move for James McCarthy, who may well be made available for loan by Everton this month following a series of injury struggles.
The days of Paul Gascoigne, Henrik Larsson and the rest are long gone for Scottish football, but it’s been a while since this sort of arm’s race was contested in the transfer market. Celtic have been forced into action by fear that their supremacy slipping. Rangers activity has been prompted by the hope of pulling off something few thought possible at the start of the season.
What happens in this January transfer window will decide the direction Scotland’s title race takes from this point on. The signing of Lallana, on top of Davis and Defoe, might well give Rangers an advantage. However, if Bayo, Burke and Weah can realise their potential in the next few months, hit the ground running, Celtic will likely stretch their legs at the top of the table.
It means this season in the Scottish top flight is panning out to be the most compelling in the best part of a decade.
It’s not just at the top of the table where there are storylines to be followed, but throughout the division. There’s no denying, though, that the headline act is the developing title race between Celtic and Rangers. It could go all the way to the wire, but what happens this month will be just as important as any remaining fixture through to May. January signings could be the title decider.