Kilmarnock striker Eamonn Brophy’s pre-contract agreement with St Mirren has raised many an eyebrow around Scottish football, but what does it tell us about the parties involved? Seán McGill examines what the transfer means for both clubs and the player himself.
It’s not often a player leaving one provincial Scottish club for another is met with much intrigue. Countless players seem to quietly drift between sides, not gifted enough to earn a long-term stay or a bigger move, not poor enough to warrant a spiral down the divisions.
Eamonn Brophy joining St Mirren is different. How is it that a 24-year-old Scotland international has made what many perceive to be a sidewards step? This deal is not only one of great curiosity, but it also lends great insight into the state of both clubs and the mindset and motivations of the striker.
Make no mistake, the signing of Brophy is a statement of ambition from the Paisley side. Social media offered a collective condescending chuckle when St Mirren Chief Executive Tony Fitzpatrick confidently stated in the summer that the Buddies would finish in the top six this season. With acquisitions like Brophy, those expectations perhaps don’t seem so ludicrous.
As reports broke earlier this week of the impending move, many were drawn to the detail that St Mirren had fended off competition from Hibs and Aberdeen for the striker’s signature. These sides have been adept in picking up domestic deals for sought-after players in recent years, but The Buddies have stumped up enough money to outbid them – a feat often achieved only by those in Glasgow or in England.
Off the pitch, the Brophy deal is truly an exciting one from a black and white perspective. On the pitch however, St Mirren have procured a player who can frustrate both the opposition and his own fans in equal measure.
With 11 league goals, the 2018/19 season under Steve Clarke was comfortably Brophy’s best to date, but despite his solid goalscoring record, less than a quarter of his shots in that season were deemed high percentage chances, ranking him outside the top 30 Premiership strikers with 700+ minutes.
Jim Goodwin is desperate to add more firepower to a side with the second fewest goals in the league this season. His new addition certainly guarantees that St Mirren will shoot more, but whether they begin to score more will be the making of Brophy as a Buddie.
Brophy has long been viewed as Kilmarnock’s best frontman, hassling defenders with his tireless work rate and clever movement in behind. However, with just three goals in 17 appearances this season, the striker has fallen down the pecking order in place of Nicke Kabamba and, more recently, Danny Whitehall.
While this may suggest that Brophy’s departure from the squad may not be as damaging as it would have been in seasons prior, it does instead underline the poor squad management that has hampered the club in recent years.
Looking beyond the club record fee received from Celtic for Greg Taylor, Killie fans have watched countless valuable assets leave Ayrshire without any financial gain in return. Brophy joins the likes of Jordan Jones and Stephen O’Donnell in sealing moves that didn’t command a transfer fee, despite the club’s efforts to tie them down to new deals.
This issue looks a long way off being corrected any time soon, with only seven senior players contracted to Killie beyond the summer. The dawning of a new year means that highly rated players such as Aaron Tshibola, Calum Waters and Stuart Findlay can join Brophy in signing pre-contract deals with new sides.
Failing to negotiate a new deal, or cash-in while his stock was high, Brophy’s farewell serves as just a further indication of a club in need of direction.
With an ageing squad neglected of long-term planning, an inexperienced manager under pressure from the fans, and a board unconvincing in its actions, some may now look at Kilmarnock and wonder just how comprehensively the appointment of Steve Clarke papered over the longstanding cracks at the club.
On the face of it, the move looks to be a strange one for the player. It wasn’t too long ago that Brophy was being linked to a big move down south, so, why St Mirren?
Without sounding overly cynical, the deal looks to be a brilliant financial one for the striker. St Mirren announced a three-year deal, somewhat of a rarity for teams outside Scotland’s big five, as smaller clubs commonly look to ensure they’re not locked in to forking out wages to underperforming signings in the long term.
For Brophy however, this gives him a guaranteed income over a longer period than most at this level are usually afforded. Having come through at Hamilton before making the move to Ayrshire, the 24-year-old can stay in familiar surroundings in the west, with perhaps less of the logistical hassle and stress that a move elsewhere may have entailed.
Like most active players who have previously donned the navy blue of Scotland, the small matter of this summer’s European Championships will be weighing heavy on the mind of the striker. His one call-up under former club manager Clarke offered Brophy a taste of international football and it would be naïve to think he doesn’t have intentions of reclaiming a spot.
Whether he can do so in time for the Euros will partly depend on which coloured stripe he’s wearing over the next few months. Alex Dyer stated on Thursday that Brophy won’t play for Killie now that he’s set for pastures new, with the clubs reportedly working a swap deal to push through the transfer this window.
The deal certainly has caught Scottish football’s attention, but only time will tell whether joining St Mirren can turn ‘The Wolf’ into the leader of the pack, or whether the transfer will be looked back upon as an absolute howler.
Statistics from Modern Fitba, Who Scored? & Transfermarkt.