KENNY SHIELS might just be the only manager in Scotland this January who is prepared to let any of his first-team players leave and doesn't want to replace them.
The Kilmarnock manager has watched helplessly as his squad has been cherry-picked in recent weeks, with Liam Kelly departing to Bristol City for £150,000 and Michael Nelson to Bradford City for £50,000, and yet confidently forecasts further departures in the final 13 days before the transfer window closes.
Whether or not that includes Gary Harkins, who has been linked with a loan to his former club Dundee, the only man travelling in the opposite direction has been Rabiu Ibrahim of Celtic. That, though, that is where the club's recruitment work will end, as the Northern Irishman feels now is the time for his young players to benefit from further playing time in the second part of the season.
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"We've lost Liam Kelly, Michael Nelson and Rory Boulding and, hopefully, even more will go before the end of January to create space for some of our kids to come in," Shiels said. "The philosophy I have – and it's a risky one – is that if any player, regardless of who they are, wants to move then I'll not stand in their way. After that it becomes a matter of finding the right value for them and, if the club which wants them does that, then we'll let them go. We are a development club and you can see that in the way we play and the players that we use. Everybody is free to go here.
"Dundee made an inquiry about Gary," added Shiels. "He had been left out of the team and he wasn't happy. That's understandable. Everyone thinks they should be in the team but somehow it's come out as Gary wanting to leave. He's one of the best players in the SPL and I don't want to lose him. But I go back to what I said earlier – if anyone wants away then they can.
"I hope no-one comes in because what would happen to Jude Winchester, Chris Johnston, Craig Slater, Mark O'Hara and Ross Davidson? It's about time we put more of them in the team. They've all been in at some stage but if we could throw them in in batches of two or three that would be good for them. That excites me because it's dual purpose – it develops the players and it makes the club prosperous."
Recruitment is an inexact science, as Kelly found out when Bristol City manager Derek McInnes was fired on the very day he made his debut, but Shiels is in no hurry for any personal upheaval. The Northern Irishman, who yesterday was passed over for the Doncaster job, will have been manager at Kilmarnock for two years come August.
He expressed sympathy for Peter Houston, who will be leaving Dundee United in May. "Peter has been in the job for three years but he's the longest-serving manager in the SPL. I'd love to be the SPL's longest-serving manager."