Drama and chaos return with new Scottish Premiership season

Celtic's Mikael Lustig and Aberdeen's Jonny Hayes race for the ball
Celtic and Aberdeen were first and second last season

There can't be many leagues in European football with the characteristics of a chameleon, but the Premiership is one of them.

In the world of Scottish football, where, for most, every pound is a prisoner, clubs shed players at a bewildering rate and take on new forms of themselves.

Managers - apart from a chosen few - are tormented in the hunt for upgrades on a budget that would hardly shift the dial if the whole lot was lumped on a weighing scales.

They recruit sometimes with a contract in one hand and a rabbit's foot in the other. They trust their judgement, sure, but with so many ins from so many unheralded places, there are few guarantees.

For every Moussa Dembele and Joey Barton - players you can probably hang your hat on - there are a dozen, or more, rolls of the dice.

Kilmarnock alone have been involved in 27 different bits of business this summer. It's a footballing Barras out there. Some jewels among the junk, no doubt. But who and where?

Kilmarnock manager Lee Clark with the 11 new signings unveiled at the end of June
Kilmarnock manager Lee Clark with the 11 new signings unveiled at the end of June

We're into it now, another season, but a different kind of season. Celtic and Rangers will dominate the headlines with the understandable fear among the others that they will be pushed to the margins amid the media's obsession with the Glasgow behemoths.

Rangers might have been gone for four years but the memory of what it was like before hasn't dimmed in the minds of those who get their kicks elsewhere.

Every cough and splutter from Celtic Park and Ibrox analysed and interpreted to death, every word from the mouths of the Old Firm managers treated like no other word matters.

The rivalry is back and the league will be better for it, but there are 12 stories in this Premiership, not just two. And in their own way, they are all compelling.


It's still too early to say for sure what we're likely to see from the reigning champions. There might be more players coming in, there might be more players going out. As it stands, they look to have too much defensive power - when everybody is fit - too many options in midfield and too many goals upfront for everybody else.

We crave a title challenge, a white-hot battle that goes into the final games, but if Celtic are on their mettle they will win the league again. Barton says they won't and that's going to be one of the joys of having him in the league. Every week is an adventure when Joey Barton is among us.


They finished second last season, but with an inferior points total to the campaign before. They won four fewer points and conceded 15 more goals. They had a wounding knack of losing the plot at times; shipping five goals at home to St Johnstone - as well as three away - and another four against Ross County on the final day.

Their away form needs a seismic shift. They lost the same number of games on the road (eight) as Hamilton and only one fewer than Kilmarnock. For a team that is capable of terrific football, that's not good enough.

They need to be more physical, but it's hard to see where that bullying aspect is going to come from. They have excellence around the park - and now have good back-up to Adam Rooney up front - but you still feel they are missing a footballing beast in the middle of the field to tie it all together.


Hearts have signed Tony Watt on a season-long loan from Charlton
Hearts have signed Tony Watt on a season-long loan from Charlton

They ended last term just six points behind Aberdeen - a fine return to the Premiership. Their squad has been turned around again - nine new players including Tony Watt, a young man who might be a decent operator one day if he parks his attitude at the door.

The Hearts fans - sections of them at any rate - have already booed their team twice this season in European competition. That's not reassuring for Robbie Neilson.

Unlike last season, when Hearts got off to a flier with five straight wins against some of the league's lesser lights, they have it tough this time. Celtic on Sunday, then Aberdeen next weekend and, after that, Inverness - a team they have beaten just once in their last dozen attempts.

Hearts are one of Scottish football's great feel-good stories, but every manager experiences turbulence at some stage. If more Tynecastle fans are becoming more demanding, Neilson is going to have to be strong this season.

St Johnstone

Tommy Wright remains a rock in Perth, a manager who turns over fewer players in his squad than any other in the league. He preaches continuity rather than revolution and it works.

His key addition is likely to be midfielder Blair Alston from Falkirk. Largely, the Northern Irishman will be going with the same set of players; well-coached, well-motivated and canny in the ways of the top flight. Wright's side will be no worse than top six again, you fancy.


Louis Moult and strike partner Scott McDonald
Motherwell will be relying on the goal threat of Louis Moult and Scott McDonald once again

The comeback story of last season, going from near-relegation in 2014-15 to fifth in 2015-16. Mark McGhee's authority changed their narrative big-time. That, and a consistent strikeforce.

In holding on to Louis Moult and Scott McDonald, McGhee has done outstandingly well. Between them they scored 25 league goals last season, more than half of Motherwell's overall total. If you add the five from Marvin Johnson, that's three men who contributed 64% of their Premiership tally.

That's both a tribute to the players and also a worry in case anything happens to any of them. So much rests on their shoulders.

Ross County

Jim McIntyre's side had the time of their lives in 2015-16, a cup win and a top-six finish propelling them into another stratosphere. Liam Boyce scored 15 league goals and he's their go-to man again.

McIntyre has kept most of his squad together, apart from the departed Jackson Irvine, and has a decent run of games in the first five weeks of the season. There's a chance to create early momentum. Another top-six place would be a huge achievement.

Inverness Caledonian Thistle

You wonder about Inverness. Richie Foran was a fine leader on the field but he's in an altogether different world now that he has succeeded John Hughes as manager. He has lost Miles Storey to Aberdeen. Storey was Inverness' top scorer last season with 11.

Somebody is going to have to step into the breach, but it's not easy to see who. Billy King is in on loan from Hearts and he will offer something. Greg Tansey remains and he's a proven operator. Unless one of his new boys turns out to be a little gem, Foran might find that his first season as a manager is a major grind.


Faissal El Bakhtaoui
Faissal El Bakhtaoui scored 30 goals last season for Dunfermline

Inverness are not the only club trying to paper over the cracks left behind by a departed striker. Dundee, eighth last season, have lost Kane Hemmings who not only scored 21 league goals - 40% of Dundee's total - but plenty of them were the difference between losing and drawing, or drawing and winning.

Paul Hartley will be praying to the footballing gods that Greg Stewart is not poached as well. Stewart has been a class act for Hartley - one of the best players in the league.

The manager has been busy, though. James Vincent and Danny Williams both in from Inverness and Faissal El Bakhtaoui signed from Dunfermline. The 23-year-old Moroccan scored 30 times in all competitions last season and is one of the more interesting arrivals into the Premiership.

Hartley will be targeting the top-six slot that he came so close to last time, while locking Stewart in a darkened room away from any suitors.

Partick Thistle

Alan Archibald's side were ninth in the last campaign, finishing on exactly the same points total as the season before. That's consistency. Kris Doolan is central to everything, their only player to get double digits in goals in the last three seasons.

How they need him to match, or better, his 14 from last term. Archibald has done well to keep Steven Lawless and Stuart Bannigan at the club, while bringing back Chris Erskine and recruiting Ziggy Gordon, a physical player who can make a difference.

The Jags got off to a brutal start last time, failing to win a game until the first weekend in October. Their run of fixtures this time couldn't be much harder. In four of their first five matches they face Celtic, Aberdeen (both away) and then Hearts and St Johnstone.

If Archibald gets much momentum from that lot, he's in for a big season.

Hamilton Academical

They defied expectations of the drop a year ago but those predictions are as strong as ever. They've gained Massimo Donati, a bit of a surreal signing, but have lost Michael McGovern, one of the best goalkeepers in the league.

If Martin Canning keeps them up he'll have done a stellar job.


The same can be said of Lee Clark, who has brought in a whole new team at Rugby Park. This is high stakes stuff. How can he bed-in so many new players? How can he know if they will settle quickly and be any use?

It's the gamble of the season, but then Killie needed to do something. In the last three years they have finished ninth, 10th and 11th. That pattern will continue if Clark has got it wrong. If he's got it right, he'll warrant a medal for pulling it off.


Clint Hill
Clint Hill should bring a bit of know-how to the Ibrox defence

The newcomer to the league? Who's that again? Ah yes, Rangers.

They've brought in leaders and quality in the shape of Barton and Niko Kranjcar. They've added huge potential in Jordan Rossiter. They've inserted experience into the defence in Clint Hill and, while we don't know what's to come from their other recruits, you have to say that Mark Warburton's judgement in the market has been excellent so far.

This is a burgeoning team. How threatening are they to Celtic's title or Aberdeen's position as the second force? We can't know that until we see the players together in games that matter.

For most of last season, Rangers knew that they could lose some games and plenty of goals and that it wouldn't damage them in the long run. They had too many gears for the rest. They don't have that latitude now, but what they have is confidence, a reason to believe.

This league might be flawed in many ways, but it will enthral us none the less. There will be all manner of stories, all sorts of drama and chaos. It's back. Enjoy.

Top Stories