In recent seasons, amid the inflated prices of the transfer market, we have seen Championship clubs take full advantage of the relatively low prices in the Scottish Premiership to land some premium Scottish talent.
Now, with the January transfer window about to come to a close, Aberdeen central defender Scott McKenna may be the latest to take the well-worn path south. Who is the young Scottish defender, though, and why have Hull City been so strongly linked to a move this winter?
In the summer the main storyline in the Aberdeen defence surrounded the re-signing of Icelandic international Kari Arnason, a player who had achieved cult status in his first spell at the club. As the first half of the season progressed, however, the Icelander has struggled to find form and the 21-year-old Scott McKenna has come in and claimed a first-team place; indeed, McKenna is now arguably the first defender on the teamsheet.
This rapid introduction to first-team football has been mirrored at international level where McKenna is not an important part of the Scottish under-21 set-up, having made five appearances at this level – with the state of the Scottish national team as it is at the moment, McKenna would not look out of place with the senior squad. A call up may have to wait until the defender moves on from Aberdeen, however.
Calm and composed when under pressure or in possession, McKenna appears to be the epitome of a modern central defender; he is capable of taking possession of the ball when under pressure and rarely misplaces a pass. He also has the ability to play more direct diagonal passes. With space on the football field now at even more of a premium than in recent years, central defenders who can use the ball well are a highly valued commodity.
Central defenders tend to get more time and space within which to play than players in any other positions on the field, and a player with McKenna’s ability to use the ball and to play through the lines of opposition pressure can be essential in breaking down stubborn sides. The fact that McKenna is predominantly left-footed also offers any prospective buyers a balance to their defensive line that will help when progressing the ball forwards.
The ability to use the ball efficiently, however, does not necessarily mean that McKenna is incapable of holding his own with the physical side of the game. He stands at 6ft 2ins, with a broad frame that makes him appear even bigger, and has a long stride that allows him to cover ground quickly when looking to recover position. These physical traits, however, do not necessarily lead to McKenna conceding fouls – in seventeen matches for the first team so far this season he has only picked up three yellow cards. Given the physical nature of a lot of strikers in the SPL, this is an exceptionally impressive ratio.
With McKenna heavily linked to a move to the English Championship this transfer window, the defender may have chosen the most opportune time to discover an affinity for goalscoring. This weekend past, with his side a goal down at home to Kilmarnock, McKenna scored twice to turn the tide of the match.
While the first can be considered a relatively typical central defender’s goal as he rose to power a header in from a corner, the second may well be a contender for goal of the season. Picking the ball up in space at the edge of the centre circle in the Kilmarnock half, McKenna took a touch out of his feet before striking the ball left-footed from 35 yards into the top corner of the Kilmarnock goal. Although this by no means suggests that he will score every week, the capacity to hit the ball from range is something that defending teams will be unable to ignore.
With only a matter of days left in the January transfer window, time is running out for Hull City to finalise a deal to take the defender south. Tigers manager Nigel Adkins has made no secret of his desire to secure the signature of the 21-year-old this month, and, to this point, Hull have had three bids rejected, with the latest reported to be around the £700,000 mark.
Over the last couple of days reports have also emerged that Aston Villa are keen to rival Hull for McKenna’s signature, and the prospect of a bidding war may be tempting for the Aberdeen board. The Dons have already seen midfielder Kenny McLean agree a deal to join Norwich for a reported £275,000, although he has been loaned back to the Pittodrie club for the remainder of the season.
Financially, Aberdeen are relatively stable for an SPL side, although the local council has just given approval for the club to build a new £50million stadium on the edge of the city. It remains to be seen whether the need to fund this new stadium will have a significant impact on the first-team budget at the club, especially as Aberdeen manager Derek McInnes has been well backed in the transfer market over recent seasons.
If either Hull or Aston Villa were willing to make a bid around the £1million mark, there is a real possibility that Aberdeen would be swayed to sell. The question would be whether, with time running out in this transfer window, that the Scottish club would be able to source a replacement for McKenna.
There is little doubt that McKenna is destined for a career in the English league, the only question is whether he would be better off to continue his development in the Aberdeen first team before perhaps earning a move to the Premier League as opposed to the Championship. Any side that manages to sign the young defender will be getting a future Scotland international with exceptional potential.