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Aug 22, 2012

Ki to the vault

KI TO THE VAULT

Money talks in Scottish football - maybe louder than ever. And with the medium-term fall-out from Rangers collapse still the subject of conjecture, SPL clubs and their banks are liquidating their assets.

Celtic this week accepted a fee of around £6 million for their South Korean midfielder Ki Sung-Yueng from Swansea City. Ki is close to a blueprint for the recruitment policy favoured by Celtic under their chief executive, Peter Lawwell. He was signed for £2.1 million three years ago, aged 20, but only arrived in Scotland in January 2010. He has developed during that time into a central midfielder perfectly suited to Swansea - technically sound but also penetrative, with a big shot.

The only negative on a spreadsheet analysis of Ki has been his contribution to the first team. In the championship season of 2011-12, he started 21 SPL matches, his most since joining Celtic. He was not always the accomplished player he is as he prepares to leave Scotland, and has plenty of competition for a shirt in central midfield.

The fee was described as "good business" by Neil Lennon, the Celtic manager, but he also admitted he is unlikely to be able to spend that money on reinforcements. Selling one of their big players as they come into the peak years of their careers is now an accepted part of the business model at Celtic. The sales of players like Aiden McGeady - for £9.5 million to Spartak Moscow two years ago - and Ki are necessary to allow Lennon to bring in young players between £1 million and £2 million.

In central midfield, Celtic still have Victor Wanyama, a robust 21-year-old Kenyan signed for £900,000 and apparently tailor-made for the battle grounds of England's Premier League; Beram Kayal, 24, an accomplished Israel international; Joe Ledley, 25, a Bosman acquisition capped 41 times for Wales; and Scott Brown, the 27-year-old captain and the only one for whom Celtic would struggle to improve on their outlay, having paid £4.4 million in 2007.

In the past, the decision to sell any of their starters would have been weighted against the need to win the SPL and secure a shot at the Champions League, another financial transformer. This season, the assumption that the title will be a formality makes the sale of Ki a more straightforward call.

UNITED FRONT

Dundee United are trying to convince us that the league will not be a cakewalk for the champions. After consecutive wins in the SPL - Celtic needed a late goal to beat Aberdeen and an even later equaliser to get a point at Ross County - they are top of the table with a game in hand over everyone except the champions.

After a strong second half to last season and with a couple of the league's most exciting young players in their line-up, United were a near unanimous pick to finish behind Celtic at the start of the season. Free from European obligations after their hammering at the hands of Dinamo Moscow, United may well be hoping that Celtic make the Champions League, keeping them busy until the new year at the earliest.

Their most recent win came in the first Dundee derby for seven years, which ended in a 3-0 victory for United at Tannadice. Remarkably, United ended the game without either of their prized assets. Gary Mackay-Steven has knee damage and didn't participate, while Johnny Russell contributed two goals and a red card. He was sent off for an entanglement with Dundee's Stephen O'Donnell that was open to interpretation. Appeals look likely; so does an upholding of both decisions.

Of greater interest to watching scouts would have been Russell's second goal, a thunderous effort that was the pick of the weekend, outdoing even Ross County's Richard Brittain, who battered a free-kick past Celtic's Fraser Forster.

Swansea are reportedly interested in Mackay-Steven, while Huddersfield are considering a £4 million move for both of United's prospects. If United get the chance to bring in that kind of money, expect them to write off their chances of a run at Celtic by pocketing the dough. That would get them in the clear with the bank a couple of years after they were being squeezed for every penny that came through the turnstiles. If they held on for a year, who knows what might be possible? However, these days accumulation beats speculation at every club in Scotland.

PLAYING FOR THE JERSEY

Russell's double was matched by Leigh Griffiths, who scored both of Hibernian's goals in a 2-1 win at St Mirren, and Jamie Murphy, who did the same for Motherwell as they beat Kilmarnock. Craig Levein, the Scotland manager, said that all three goalscorers were in his thoughts for selection as he tries to add depth to Scotland's forward options.

The national team won 3-1 against Australia last week, with Jordan Rhodes scoring his first international goal. The prolific Huddersfield striker has a clear run at the No. 9 shirt, especially if he gets a move to the Premier League, as he is expected to do, and with the continued absence of Steven Fletcher. Levein was urged by Sir Alex Ferguson to rebuild his relationship with the Wolves forward, who is a fine fit for the single-striker formation that Scotland will use in most fixtures. However, the Scotland coach appears no closer to rethinking his position on the most valuable player available to him.

Kenny Miller, the go-to Scotland forward for the last three managers, is now in Major League Soccer and at 32 his all-action game may have to undergo some changes if it is to continue much longer.

So the need for alternatives is real. Levein has used Craig Mackail-Smith, the Brighton striker and something of a Miller clone, but a window may be open for one of the SPL's bright young things to play a part in World Cup qualifying. Murphy probably starts the chase behind Griffiths and Russell, but whoever hits the front during the SPL season may earn themselves a rare prize if the Scotland manager's interest is maintained.

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