The January transfer window is a time of great excitement, full of money, intrigue and drama.
If you live in England.
North of the Border, the reality is a little different. In last year’s instalment, Celtic’s canny signing of Erik Sviatchenko was the only deal to break the million-pound mark, and it’s fair to say that Miles Hippolyte’s move from Livi to Falkirk was considered relatively “major”.
In these circumstances, clubs cannot rely on the Jim White factor. Nobody was sitting outside Aberdeen’s training ground as the clock ticked down, waiting to ask Derek McInnes, through rolled down Range Rover window, if he thought he could get the Simon Church deal over the line.
Just like so many other areas of the sport, Scottish football’s transfer activity is decidedly “make do and mend”, and the promotion of signings reflects this. However, rather than roll over and accept that loan signings from MK Dons don’t sell shirts, our marketing departments have found a whole range of novel ways to spin their cut price galacticos.
“He once scored against X, don’t you know”
When Kilmarnock signed attacker Borja Pérez in 2012, they could have focussed on a number of things: his decent pedigree in Spain’s second division (his Alcorcón side had almost won promotion to La Liga the season before), his footballing education in the Real Madrid academy, his exotic Iberian hairstyle.
But the only story in town seemed to be the fact that, over his career, he had mustered 6 goals against Real Madrid. This (admittedly impressive) stat is mitigated by the fact that all of them came in the Copa Del Rey, Spain’s unloved cup competition. To be fair to Perez, the Real Madrid team that he put to the sword in a famous 4-0 win included Raul, Benzema, Van Der Vaart and Van Nistelrooy, and the result was big enough news to gain its own nifty nickname: “Alcorconazo”.
Pérez was, essentially, the Spanish Dennis Wyness.
Still, poor Borja found the St Mirren defence less porous, netting just 4 goals in Scotland before shuffling off to Tenerife a year later.
The “big name” (sort of)
Back in 2004, Chris Sutton and Henrik Larsson were the strike partnership to fear in Scottish football. Experienced, well known players with pedigree and international caps: was it any wonder Jim Duffy tried to appropriate a little bit of their star quality to his Dundee side?
The Dens Park club were broke and needed a good news story on the cheap. Duffy’s answer was to sign Sutton’s younger brother John (who had already built his own fledgling reputation at Raith Rovers) and unknown Norwegian forward Glenn Atle Larsen. Dundee now had their very own Sutton ‘n’ Larsson pairing (sort of).
Publicity wise, this did the trick, as the press lapped up Dundee’s Poundland Celtic tribute act. On the pitch, only Sutton made any real impact, forming an effective partnership with Steve Lovell and going on to have a fine career in Scottish football.
He ain’t heavy…
In the summer of 2015, Scottish football got even more fraternal on us as players started to rock up seemingly on the sole basis that they had famous brothers.
First, Dundee United signed Rodney Sneijder, younger brother of Dutch World Cup finalist Wesley. Then, Partick Thistle snapped up Mathias Pogba, brother of then-Juventus tyro Paul (as well as of oft-forgotten St Etienne defender Florentin).
In both cases, family ties were what everyone seemed to focus on, rather than the players’ respective merits. Possibly for the best, as it turned out.
Sneijder had a decent pedigree and his signing seemed a bit of a coup, but he played just one game for United before returning to Holland in mysterious circumstances.
Pogba stuck around the top flight a little longer, stinking Firhill out for a full season before departing for Sparta Rotterdam in 2016. Anyone who saw Pogba play in that spell will know that his stated desire of playing in the same team as his two brothers (both of whom are full internationalists) is only likely to happen in some post-retirement Parisian Sunday league.
At times, Scottish football has just gone all out and signed two brothers at the same time. In 2009, Hamilton Accies pulled off a publicity masterstroke with the signing of Portuguese identical twins Flávio and Marco Paixão.
At the peak of Jedward’s reign of terror, these peroxide tinged wingers were a marketers’ dream. Their impact on Billy Reid’s side, though, was mixed: there were some nice moments, and memorable coordinated goal celebrations, but not enough consistency. Accies released them both after 2 seasons.
Cowdenbeath saw a slightly happier brethren tale in the 2005/2006 season, with manager Mixu Paatelainen signing his own brothers Markus and Mikko. Cowdenbeath stormed to the Third Division title that season, with Markus winning the division’s Player of the Year award (and a transfer to top flight Inverness CT), whilst Mikko was the SFL’s March Player of the Month.
In a cute post-script to the tale, the two younger Paatelainens ended up finishing their careers together at IFK Mariehamn in Finland.
Never heard of the guy? He’s never scored against a decent side? He’s an only child?
No problem, Scottish football always finds an angle!
Faissal El Bakhtaoui arrived at Dunfermline at the age of 19, and wasn’t even an 11 a side player! El Bakhtaoui had been spotted by a friend of Jim Jefferies playing in an indoor five-a-side futsal league.
The fact that one of our established clubs was picking up randoms from a hall in France should really have been a source of embarrassment, but the Pars decided to own the story. Bakhtoui’s subsequent rise to League One top scorer (and now Premiership player with Dundee) has been painted as a Roy of the Rovers tale, rather than a damning indictment of our game.
Another backstory that generated a lot of attention was that of Jamie Stevenson. The Alloa youngster was famously spotted by a Real Mallorca coach whilst having a holiday kickabout with his uncle on a beach, and subsequently signed for the then-La Liga side. A brave and encouraging move, but, just 18 months (and 0 games) later, he was back at Alloa after suffering from homesickness, despite Mallorca reportedly trying to convince him to stay.
Since then, Stevenson’s career has lurched from untapped potential to established journeyman, with a few years at Morton serving as the highlight. Yet the story of his unlikely scouting in the Balearics continues to follow him around, and every time a new part time contract is announced it is accompanied by reference to that episode, a full 14 years ago.
Scottish football may not always have the best players in the world, and our transfers may not bother the Sky Sports yellow ticker too much this January. But when it comes to unveiling the latest “rough diamond” from Braintree Town, there really is nobody better than our ever-resourceful marketing teams!