Dundee United – The State of Play

As of Monday night the first transfer window of the season ended and teams in Scotland can no longer do any business for players under contract. There is still the option of signing players who are without a club but by and large that will be business done until January (the emergency loan system, used by some in previous seasons, has also now ended).

I thought that with the transfer period finishing it would be a good time to run through the current squad and structure at the club. Monday was strange for us all because it felt like for the first time in years the SLAMMING SHUT of the window wasn’t one to be really anxious about. I even went to bed nice and relaxed knowing that nothing needed to happen before the window SLAMMED SHUT and as it transpired the only movement on deadline day involved three players leaving the club (two permanently in Freddy Frans and Fraser Aird, one on loan, Osman Sow).

This has been a quieter period of activity than we have experienced in previous seasons but in many ways this has been the most reassuring summer since we have been in the Championship. After spending so many years rebuilding and re-structuring we may still be stuck in this division BUT we finally look like having a blueprint for success and a staffing framework that will allow us to achieve the objective of promotion this season. Squad changes have been methodical and measured, rather than wholesale and scattergun.

Of course all of this positivity has all been helped with a perfect start, 12 points out of 12 leaves us with the momentum, the points tally and the goal difference to begin to apply pressure to others rather than it being applied to us like in the last few campaigns. To navigate our way through Inverness (H), Partick (A), Dunfermline (A) and Dundee (H) with four wins on the bounce means we have to give a huge amount of credit to Robbie Neilson, Gordon Forrest, Lee McCulloch and Neil Alexander. The players also deserve huge praise for showing a more dominant and attacking style of play, and one that should be enough to see us win the league, if we maintain the high standards that we have set.

So, the purpose of this piece is to clarify where we are, what the squad looks like and what changes have been made since May.

Transfers OutSummer 2019

Adam Barton (Wrexham), Luc Bollan (Aberdeen), Rachid Bouhenna (ACS Sepsi Osk), Fraser Fyvie (Cove Rangers), Morgaro Gomis (Falkirk), Stewart Murdoch (East Fife), Aidan Nesbitt (Greenock Morton), Christoph Rabitsch (Lendorf), Archie Thomas (Cowdenbeath),  Lewis Toshney (Falkirk), Mati Zata (Dumbarton), Declan Glass (Cove Rangers, loan), Matty Smith (Cove Rangers, loan), Ross Laidlaw (Hibernian, end of loan), Pavol Safranko (Aalborg, end of loan), Charlie Seaman (Bournemouth, end of loan), Callum Booth, William Edjenguele, Billy King, Yannick Loemba, Tam Scobbie, Frederic Frans, Fraser Aird, Osman Sow (Kilmarnock, loan)

All The Right Moves ?

I think we can be happy with how many players we have moved on. Without wanting to speak ill of anyone it has to be said that some of names on the list above are nowhere near the standard we need if we are to build a team to win the title and then possibly hold a Premiership place. We are now free of any deadwood and the squad is looking more balanced. It is also suitably trimmed down enough that we are lighter on wages (although that is maybe offset with Shankland’s £25,000 a week basic salary and £2,000 goal bonus).

If I am being overly picky then maybe now that we know Adrian Sporle doesn’t quite look like he will make an impact (yet) it might have been that someone like Callum Booth could have argued for another year as a backup and I would also make a case for Archie Thomas who I always thought looked like a reasonable prospect in the midfield (and we have not seen enough of Adam King to judge him yet). There is a bit of me that also wonders if Osman Sow, who is now back to fitness, might have been a useful option to keep but it is testament to Louis Appere that Sow leaving was not as big a blow as it could have been. Freddie Frans is another who could have argued for a spot in the squad but his move back home is possibly best for him and his young family.

Current First Team Squad

Goalkeepers

Benji SiegristContracted until June 2020 – I have been really pleased with Benji this season and I think that we are all a bit more relaxed about him being first choice this year. I have no reason for United to seek out any other goalkeeping options and the jersey is his to lose.

Josh DonaldsonContracted until June 2020 – The youngster has yet to make an appearance for the club and it also now looks like Deniz is being used in most Reserve games. Used on matchdays to help assist Alexander, Mehmet and Siegrist.

Deniz Mehmet – Contracted until June 2021 – Apart from the Betfred Cup (and you would think maybe the Tunnock’s Wafer Cup) it will be a case of Deniz being patient this year.

Defenders

Jamie Robson – Contracted until June 2023 – The resurgence of Robson has been one of the stories of the season so far. After we brought in Adrian Sporle it looked like Robson would have been relegated to the bench but his performances so far have been very solid and the position is his for the foreseeable future. A new contract has just been announced and it is well deserved.

Sam WardropContracted until June 2020 – Still recovering from a serious injury. I have not given up all hope with Wardrop and it would be a boost to the balance of the squad if he could get himself fit and act as understudy to Liam Smith.

Mark Reynolds – Contracted until June 2022 – Showing all of his experience so far this year, he looks like someone who also plays a big role off the park. Maybe in the mould of Sean Dillon, he is not the loudest of captains during matches but a defender of his age and professionalism is invaluable.

Paul WatsonContracted until June 2020 – It seems like Watson is the preferred option on the bench in terms of defensive cover but interestingly it seems as though Neilson sees him as a right-back given his lack of game time when Connolly has been injured. Now that Frans has left you would assume that Watson is our main defensive cover.

Mark ConnollyContracted until June 2021 – I like Connolly and I want him to do well for the club. He is very, very committed and he always wears his heart on his sleeve. Unfortunately this can sometimes be his big weakness, and he is guilty of becoming a walking suspension at times. His attitude is something the squad benefits from.

Liam Smith – Contracted until June 2021 – Fast becoming my favourite player and someone who should pick up a 7 or an 8 every week. Our right-hand side has been a weakness for years now but Smith has changed all of that. A vital part of the team.

Adrian Sporle – Contracted until June 2022 – Not really sure what the story is with the Argentinian but we have not seen much of him since his hesitant displays in the Betfred Cup. With the form of Robson he is unlikely to see much action but I would still like to see more of him at some point.

Midfielders

Paul McMullan – Contracted until June 2021 – Even when McMullan is not at his best he is a player we don’t have another of. His acceleration and trickery make him a constant danger, plus his work-rate since Neilson has arrived seems to have bee upped a few notches. Still needs more consistency in his crossing but his assists so far have been very important.

Sam Stanton – Contracted until June 2020 – Looked like he was out the door at times last year but his transformation has been well received by the fans. I have mentioned before that he is someone supporters want to succeed, he is a humble and hard-working player. Finally he is showing us the good stuff that we know he is capable of.

Calum Butcher – Contracted until June 2020 – What can I say about Butcher? He is emerging as a key part of this squad and his versatility has been a great asset in recent matches. He will continue to divide opinions but I think he could be one of our most important players given the role he plays.

Cammy SmithContracted until June 2020 – Well he did score number six so that is his place cemented in United legend regardless of what happens. I, like many others, would love to see more of Smith and he still needs a run of games (something he has not had across two spells at the club).

Ian HarkesContracted until June 2021 – I’m very much behind the movement to get “Young Harkes Run Free” as a song for the United faithful. The American has shown great promise during his time at Tannadice and his goal against Dundee will hopefully give him a real confidence boost.

Peter PawlettContracted until June 2021 – A fully fit Pawlett will be a great asset for us but keeping him fit is the big task for the coaching staff (and medical staff). He has the ability to unlock games single-handedly.

Adam King – Contracted until June 2022 – It is difficult to make a judgement on King based on his limited appearances so far. He is purely for cover but if he is to be used he needs to be ready to step up.

Strikers

Osman SowContracted until June 2020 – Currently on loan at Kilmarnock.

Nicky ClarkContracted until June 2020 – He has been shifted about so far this season but he is still a very important member of the squad. His goalscoring exploits haven’t begun this year but hopefully he will get going soon. With Sow leaving he will get more opportunities in his preferred role.

Lawrence Shankland – Contracted until June 2022 – Simply put, if we keep Shankland firing then we will win the league. Our most important player and someone who is providing the thing we have lacked since being in the Championship, goals.

Louis AppereContracted until June 2020 – A surprise package. Someone most of us thought was on his way out, he has come back since the summer looking sharp, fit and physically ready. His performances have been superb and his career now looks like it could flourish after being so close to it nearly ending.

Notable Youngsters

Matty SmithContracted until June 2020 – Currently away at Cove Rangers and he has made a promising start to his time there.

Declan GlassContracted until June 2020 – Like Smith he is at Cove and his start there has been nothing short of superb. It might be that he returns to Tannadice in January ready to push for a first-team place.

Scott BanksContracted until June 2020 – After some fantastic performances in the Betfred and in pre-season he has disappeared from the scene. Not sure if it is an injury but there were a few rumours about contract negotiations and the potential transfer interest.

Logan ChalmersContracted until June 2020 – Another who featured during pre-season but is a little bit behind in the pecking order given the use of Clark, Appere and Pawlett on the left hand side so far.

Chris MochrieContracted until June 2020 – Appeared on the scene at the tail end of last season but unused in the league this campaign. Could get his chance in the middle of the park if we have any injuries or suspensions.

Ross GrahamContracted until June 2020 – The young defender made some brief appearances in pre-season and like Mochrie could be used if we have any injuries given our light cover at the back.

Do We Need More?

The form in these early games has relieved some of the pressure on the club making more signings but there is always room for improvement. We have three questions that need answered over the course of the season (with the last one being speculative but hopeful at the moment) –

“What do we need to get us to January” – The answer to that is that we are probably just about there. I woke up the morning after the window closed and I thought that we look a bit light but the form and performances have meant that the pressure isn’t there at the moment in terms of adding to the squad. Rumours are that we may be looking at one or two out of contract players to bolster the squad, Elliott Frear being the most obvious.

“What do we need to win us the title in the second-half of the season?” – That question can’t be answered yet as we don’t know what the first-half of the season might bring. If we are in a strong position then we have a good number of young players and a strong enough squad that maybe just one or two loan additions might help us get over the line. If we do begin to struggle or pick up injuries then maybe we would need two or three.

“What do we need for the Premiership?” (if we are promoted) – The final phase in this (hopefully) successful plan is to build a squad that can compete in the Premiership. Having a core group of three or four youngsters, then a group of reliable experienced players will be a good start but we will have to look at making three or four big signings to ensure our survival if we are to gain top-flight status. We also have a large number of current starters out of contract next summer.

Behind The Scenes

One obvious improvement the club have made since the Ogren team have arrived has been the off-the-field health of Dundee United. Financially we have our future secured and the undercurrent of suspicion is now long gone. Changes have been made and the whole infrastructure at the club is now much more professional and focused. Everyone seems to be moving in the same direction and there has definitely been a shift in professionalism and attitude.

A quick run through of the some of the key staff at Tannadice –

Chairman – Mark Ogren

Board Members – Jimmy Fyffe, David Dorward

Managing Director – Mal Brannigan

Sporting Director – Tony Asghar

Head Coach – Robbie Neilson

Assistant Head Coach – Gordon Forrest

Assistant Head Coach – Lee McCulloch

Goalkeeping Coach – Neil Alexander

Head of Recruitment – David Byrne

Academy Director – Andy Goldie

Senior Academy Head Coach – Adam Asghar

Head of Academy Talent ID & Recruitment – Jordan Moore

Head of Player Pathway and Loans – Brian Grant

Head of Medicine – Marcin Szostak

Physio – Jordan Cleland

Academy Physio – Jeff Clarke

Head of Sport Science – Gary Dempsey

Head of Analysis & Opposition Scouting – Stevie Grieve

The positive changes at Tannadice go beyond just the staff who take charge of the team. There seems to be a real push in all things connected to the local community and the Dundee United Community Trust have more of the spotlight, highlighting the fantastic work that they do. A surge in fan engagement events has led to the connection between supporters and club being re-established after a long period of badly managed PR and a real detachment that no football club can sustain.

The stadium has undergone a mini-revamp and fans can now enjoy small additions to the match day experience like the extended menu, the return of Nicoll’s Bakery and the game changer for me, the ability to finally use card and contactless to buy food (although I have yet to use the ordering app). Structural changes were made along with a welcome pressure wash to the surfaces of each stand. This has returned a bit of colour back to the stadium exterior (although I would still like a splash of paint across the reception covering and maybe inside on some of the stairwells). It has been rumoured that the total investment this summer sits at around the £250,000 mark. The Ogrens have been true to their word so far.

All of these small changes in infrastructure and environment make the matchday experience more enjoyable. Football is still very expensive and it is probably now classed almost as a social luxury but United have tried to make the experience of being a fan more relaxed, and results on the pitch mean that everyone has having a great time at the moment!

Another area that has been improved has been the retail side of things. The shop is now back in the hands of the club and new kit suppliers Macron have absolutely knocked it clean out of the park with their kits and training wear. The shop have introduced a wider, more bespoke range of souvenirs and t-shirts, again adding to that connection between supporter and club.

Nothing is ever perfect, and things will always need improving, but the overall health of Dundee United and the general mood amongst the fans is a world away from what was, even just a few months ago. That leads us nicely to the final section of this long post (and thank you if you have made it to the end!)

The Fans

I will always be proud to call myself a Dundee United supporter and I am immensely passionate about what the club means to me. I do however admit that supporting United hasn’t been particularly enjoyable these last few years. Finally things have changed and that enjoyment is back. It feels great.

The results on the park are always the most important thing but many of the small things outlined above have brought back an atmosphere amongst the fans that I have not seen in a long time. Social media is now full of calm and reasoned debate, rather than sniping and negativity. The pubs and pre-match rapport has returned with the travelling support in particular now looking visibly larger and more vocal. It feels really good to be a United fan right now and long may it continue.

One further benefit of this added positivity has been the rise in supporters who have an interest in airing their views and doing so via blogs or podcasts. There is more United ‘stuff’ available now than I remember there being for a long time. One example is the fantastic weekly ‘Dode Fox Podcast‘ (@DodeFoxPodcast), a brilliant addition to the fan created content we already have. The way in which it is produced and presented is very professional but very personable and enjoyable, it is an unmissable part of the week despite only being a 10 episodes old.

This adds to a landscape that already contains the DUFC Podcast (@DUFCCulture) and the semi-regular, fantastically written ‘Madness Is Tangerine In Colour‘ (@lifesanocean). We also have contributions to non-United websites by writers like @JHartWinks who writes for ‘PureFitbaw’ and @Campbell6_2 who has written for Vavel.com (and other podcasts/websites about football in general). The Twitter ‘community’ is really strong right now and there are so many enjoyable and interesting posters who spend a huge amount of their time and energy speaking about our beloved club (and apologies for not listing more by name, there are just too many to mention!).

For me personally it still always amazes me how many people read, comment, share and talk about this blog. As always, a massive, massive thank you to everyone and anyone, there have been more than a few occasions these last few months where I have been close to maybe not doing this site anymore but when things are going so well I can hardly walk away now!

Facebook is still home to the huge, huge United groups and there is a constant stream of postings on Arabs Anonymous but also more ‘organised’ fan pages from Ceres Arabs, The Dundee United Supporters Foundation, ArabTrust and many more.

Whilst I am on the subject of fan groups and social media, make sure you have all donated to the Jim McLean Statue Fund!

My social media eyes have been opened further these last few months with my foray into Instagram, and I have discovered a small but dedicated group of United themed posters who use their editing and creative skills to generate content on a regular basis.

Basically what I am saying is that the internet is awash with United at the moment, and for the most part it is a very positive environment. Right now it is a great ‘community’ to be part of.

One slight grumble (and it is very slight) is that despite a more prominent and very good social media presence by the club, the paid content behind the official ArabZone service is maybe not as varied or as ‘exclusive’ as it could be. Many of the pre-match interviews are filmed by other people and are freely available on YouTube channels like ‘twentyfoursevenscotland‘. I personally would like more features exclusive to ArabZone but I know that the media team work very hard and I am still happy to support them and pay my monthly fees.

The Final Word

If you have made it this far, well done. If you skipped most of it and want a summary – Basically, everything is great.

I think the final word is one of optimism but also realism. We all know that this season will not be perfect and we all know that despite a perfect start there will be bumps in the road and difficult weeks ahead. Football never makes things easy but the difficult times can be made more bearable if you know that your club is in good hands and you know that everyone is (and I hate the cliche) ‘singing from the same hymn sheet‘.

What we must do is harness the positive energy and the positive mood. If used correctly I can see there being more good weeks than bad and a league title by the end of May next year.

This post started as a ‘brief’ summary of United but has ended with a long-winded but generally very happy rant. If this is sign of things to come then bring it on. I have said before that writing about negativity can sometimes be easier because you are highly strung and keen to vent. Well, I have thoroughly enjoyed bringing you this rundown, and I have had a smile on my face the whole time.

Signing off (for this post, I’ll be back on Sunday of course!)

Yours,

One Very Happy Arab.

P.S – For those of you that read the Derby Review, let’s check in on James McPake, one last time.

Sorry, couldn’t help myself.