Why it makes sense
For the club
The criticism of Dundee that survived through John Brown and into Paul Hartley’s tenure was that they had a bloated and unbalanced squad. Two aspects they lacked in attack were pace at the forward line and another option to play on the wing. If Phil Roberts can integrate himself into the squad and perform at the top flight level then it kills two birds with one stone. They are not going to be pinning their survival hopes on Roberts, but they need to reshape the entire unit and if he can realise the potential he showed in his first couple of months in Inverness then he can provide a valuable spark in reserve.
This is not a blind gamble. Hartley has seen the striker play before. He knows his strengths and, more importantly, he knows his weaknesses. Despite Roberts sulking through a clash with Alloa earlier in the season, Hartley has decided that there is enough talent there to take a shot on him. There may be something in his game or character that Hartley feels Falkirk did not handle correctly.
For the player
Roberts had a two year contract ripped up after 10 months by a team who finished behind Falkirk in the championship table. He’s been lucky enough to do wrong and then somehow go up. After leaving Falkirk there would have been a danger, if he wanted to stay in this country, that he’d have to go part-time in order to find another club. There are not many people, even footballers, who have landed on their feet in such a way after making mistakes and this is an incredible opportunity for Roberts. His new manager must see something in him to take the risk and he’s lucky to be the project of one of the most exciting managerial prospects in the country.
Why it doesn’t
For the player
Roberts is a confidence player and possesses a fragile mind. Can he be strong enough to handle the role of bit-part player on a struggling club? Sometimes it’s better for footballers to go down, discover things about themselves and then push to make it back up through the leagues. After failure at Inverness and Falkirk he needs to make a success of himself in his next move for the long-term health of his career. There are countless stories of young players who make the wrong decision, get disillusioned with the game or losing a belief and never discover that potential.
Dundee need to strengthen if they are to survive in the top flight. As it stands Roberts is considered no better than Peter MacDonald or Christian Nade in attack, nor Nicky Riley or Jim McAlister/Ryan Conroy on the wings. This is only the first signing. There will be more reinforcements coming in. How much does he drop down the pecking order before the season begins? Does he have the toughness to fight his way up? To remain patient and take his chance when it comes? History would suggest that isn’t the case.
For the club
The fact that Gary Holt criticised him in public tells you everything you need to know about his on-field character. Regardless of performance, Holt will always stick up for his players; determined to look for the positives since they are a bunch of willing young lads trying to learn the game. He made an exception in the case of Roberts, describing him as selfish and caring not for the good of the team.
The attacker is just far too petulant and will sulk or lash out if things are not going his way. His red card against Alloa was the third of the season, but only the first where he was actually sent off for orthodox fouls. Against Dumbarton he received a second yellow for kicking the ball away, despite his team losing in injury time, and against Livingston he was shown a straight red for headbutting Simon Mensing. Even still, once he received his marching orders against Alloa he then proceeded to do this:
Had Dundee conceded a last minute goal against Dumbarton and finished behind Hamilton in the title race then this signing would have made more sense. Roberts has terrific ability for a second tier player and Hartley felt the maverick would have been worth the risk, safe in the knowledge that they’d still probably be one of the better teams in the league outside Rangers or Hearts regardless of his play. But he’s going into a situation where every point is going to count. The Dundee squad for the Premiership charge will have to be full of players who are going to be reliable. Who aren’t going to cost you games with stupid decisions, and it’s debateable whether Roberts has the ability to actually cut it in the top flight anyway. This just seems too much of a risk for little reward.
For discussion on the final Premiership weekend and the playoff battles then be sure to listen to last night’s podcast.