Dundee United need never employ another scout: as the summer transfer window begins, they have seemingly embarked on a new policy of hoovering up players who performed well against them over the season just past. They tried this to a limited extent last season, signing Paul McMullan, James Keatings and Sam Stanton, all players from other Championship sides from 2016/17; this summer it has been reported by the Courier, the Dundee Evening Telegraph and other newspapers that they are interested in Morton's Tam O'Ware and Pars pair Nicky Clark and Fraser Aird. Aird was apparently set to agree a new 1 year contract at EEP last week before United jumped in with a 2 year contract offer, although there have been no other developments in the past few days. Clark is also a target of the Tannadice club, who released several players last week including top scorer Scott McDonald. As an aside, a further example of United's policy of signing familiar players is the alleged interest in bringing back forward Simon Murray to the club, after he left United last summer to join Hibs.
Rumours, of course, abound at this time of year but the Aird and Clark stories could well have foundation. Both players made significant contributions to Dunfermline's 11 game unbeaten run that was eventually ended in a hard-to-take play-off defeat against Dundee United. Clark was the club's top scorer, with 21 goals, while Aird - hugely underused by Pars boss Allan Johnston for much of the season - made a big impact when given a run in the team in the final quarter, with goals and assists. When the Daily Record announced that Aird had agreed a new deal with Dunfermline, fans' reactions were mostly positive; upon hearing of United's interest, revisionism kicked in to an extent with comments predictably following the "ach well, he wasn't that good anyway" line, along with others who saw more value in the player. Having just secured Lee Ashcroft, Lee Robinson and James Craigen to new contracts on Thursday, keeping Aird and Clark at the club would have been welcomed as a positive sign that the best of last season's team were ready to commit to a title challenge next season. The pleasing news of the 3 players who have decided to stay was tempered slightly (or greatly, depending on your view of Clark and Aird) by the potential loss of 2 of our most potent attackers.
Despite being top scorer in both his seasons at Dunfermline, Clark has never been given much love by the fans, who have been slow to warm to him, especially when he went through a goal drought but seemed to be undroppable. Aird, in contrast, was a late-season focus of much fan adulation, with songs sung about him and a mantra-like chant of his name in games during April.
I would prefer both players to stay at the club. My views on Clark can be read in this article (here) posted on this site a few weeks ago; there are few strikers more capable of guaranteeing such a decent goal return as Clark and if he wants to stay, he should be a priority signing. Aird would always be in my starting 11 and we would struggle to replace him if he leaves, in terms of his direct running, creativeness and ability to score spectacular long range goals.
Losing your better players to a direct rival is never a good thing, but at this level no player is irreplaceable. Certain players have aspects of their game that are hard to replace but just as the departure of McMullan (after his loan spell ended) 12 months ago opened the door for Aird, so might another opportunity come for a different player this summer if Aird and/or Clark leave.
In the meantime, let's hope United keep away from Ryan Williamson, Kallum Higginbotham and others.