Dundee United, two time winners of both the Scottish Cup and Scottish League Cup, finished runners up in both competitions in consecutive years. They lost the 2014 Scottish Cup final 2-0 to St Johnstone, as well as the 2015 Scottish League Cup final to Celtic by the same scoreline.
One of Scotland’s biggest clubs, the country’s seventh-most successful team in terms of honours, they are now in contention to be promoted from the second tier of Scottish football this campaign. But how has this happened? And where are the young starlets of yesterday that made it seem as though United would forever be a mainstay in the top tier?
Some of United’s former key players were named in the most recent Scotland squad. It makes you wonder what would have happened had they held on to Gary Mackay-Steven, Stuart Armstrong and most notably Scotland captain Andy Robertson. Not forgetting about John Souttar and Ryan Gauld who were also both exciting Scottish starters. Add in the foreign flair and goals of Nadir Ciftci and the spine of that side is frightening.
Even the back-up brigade was decent to an extent. Charlie Telfer, Blair Spittal and Aidan Connolly were also breaking through with much promise, largely thanks to Craig Levein shaping the academy for the better.
From ‘world at his feet’ to ‘forgotten man’
Ryan Gauld seemingly had the world at his feet. A host of clubs were queueing up to sign him following him being discovered in the city of discovery. After attracting rumoured interest from Liverpool, Roma and Real Madrid amongst others, he is now the forgotten man playing in Portugal following Sporting CP signing him for around £3 million and adding a €60 million release clause in his contract in July 2014.
A real shame to see, with the nation hoping his fortunes will change sooner rather than later after previously believing Lisbon would be the ideal location for Gauld to develop with their academy having boasted the likes of Luis Figo and Cristiano Ronaldo. Turning 23 in December, Gauld has had three loan spells whilst in the Portuguese capital at Vitoria de Setubal, Aves and Farense, hopefully the ‘Scottish Messi’ as he was once known, can get back to his best soon.
The downfall picked up momentum once Mackay-Steven and Armstrong were sold to Celtic. Having already lost the former to Celtic on a pre-contract, United were able to claim around £250,000 for the winger whilst letting Armstrong go in a separate deal, on the same day in February 2015.
Their fortunes would be at different ends of the spectrum. Mackay-Steven’s move didn’t quite work out, often used as a bit-part player before departing for United’s New Firm rivals Aberdeen where he still currently plays today.
Stuart Armstrong, on the other seems to be moving on up the career ladder; his real breakthrough coming in 2016-17 netting 17 goals as Celtic won the domestic treble. Last season was largely interrupted by injuries, yet Armstrong signed for Southampton in August for around £7 million. Wanting to ‘hit the ground running’, Armstrong claims he no longer misses Scottish football. Each to their own, I suppose.
With both midfielders having signed for Celtic, Nadir Ciftci was next to move to Glasgow for a rumored £1.5 million. A record of 33 goals in 73 starts, according to arabarchive.co.uk, tells you all you need to know about the Turk on Tayside, yet his spell at Celtic was less than impressive.
After being gifted the iconic number 7 jersey, the same as he wore at Tannadice, you’d be lucky if he hit 7 goals before being shipped on loan to Eskişehirspor, Pogoń Szczecin, Plymouth Argyle and Motherwell. His Glaswegian nightmare came to an end after signing for Gençlerbirliği in his native Turkey this year.
Another domestic sale was to come when John Souttar left Tannadice for Tynecastle, signing with Hearts after previously rejecting Premier League side Sunderland (a team whose fortunes became even worse than that of United’s) with the Wearside club having a bid of around £600,000 accepted.
Towards the end of United stay, Souttar was deployed at defensive midfield and right back by Mixu Paatelainen, who had replaced Jackie McNamara prior to United’s relegation. Since then, Souttar has been a mainstay at the back for the Jambos, even linking up with former coach Ian Cathro, and received a senior Scotland call-up in May 2018.
Already there’s a whole host of contrasting routes in that spine, but none have excelled quite the way that Andy Robertson has. The 24-year-old’s progression ought to be a blueprint for young footballers desperate to ‘make it’ following his Celtic release.
Everybody knows about his time at Queen’s Park afterwards, United signing him from the Spiders before being sold on to Hull City and now plying his trade at one of the biggest clubs in world football in Liverpool. The Reds signing him for £8 million, in this modern game, has to be considered an absolute steal in this day and age. A bigger fee than the £2.85 million the Terrors received from the Tigers, a real showcase of his progress.
His first Scotland start came in May 2014 but fast forward four years and he’s the captain of the national team and a Champions League finalist last season, Liverpool losing to Real Madrid 3-1 in Kiev. Ridiculous how far he’s come in such a short space of time, also how his former club continue to fall.
Throughout losing these star players, United had their fair share of poor players coming in. Total diehards may remember the likes of Darko Bodul, Adam Taggart, Aaron Kuhl, Florent Sinama-Pongolle and Gavin Gunning rejoining the club. Japanese goalkeeper Eiji Kawashima and Wesley Sneijder’s younger brother Rodney couldn’t save them. I don’t blame you if you forgot any of these.
However, they’ve got a squad and facilities that are more than good enough at the level they’re playing at. A manager who has won in this division before and most importantly a fanbase, who deserves better, that will stick with them until the very end.