Kouider-Aissa: The Next Queens Park Success Story?
Livingston confirmed the signing of Queens Park striker Salim Kouider-Aissa following a successful trial at the West Lothian club after his contract expired at the Glasgow club. As of two years ago, Kouider-Aissa was playing at junior level, getting back to enjoying football as a part of Kilsyth Rangers in the C section within the second tier. It's a massive jump for the striker but goes to show what can be achieved through hard work and dedication and is a cause that should be celebrated.
Following unsuccessful spells at Queen of the South, Stenhousemuir and Stirling Albion, Kouider-Aissa dropped down to junior level to join the wee Gers. The spell at the North Lanarkshire worked wonders, with the striker scoring over 40 times and catching the eye of the Hampden side. A season with Queens Park saw the striker score 17 goals, shining brightly under the guidance of Mark Roberts and Ray MacKinnon. With a single year deal, Kouider-Aissa tested himself on trial in West Lothian, impressing enough to sign a two-year deal, with the option of a third.
But what exactly can Livi fans expect from their new striker? Described by Kilsyth Rangers Club Secretary William Dunbar as 'extremely fit, strong and a great header of the ball', these three attributes strike similar to that of current Livi number 9 Lyndon Dykes. Kouider-Aissa is smaller than the Australian born striker, at 5ft 10 but possesses an impressive leap that saw him score 7 headers last season. With the Lions desire to get the ball into the box as often as they can using long throws and set pieces, Kuoider-Aissa adds yet another threat from these situations. With Alan Lithgow looking to be sidelined and Ciaran Brown returning to Cardiff following his loan, Lyndon Dykes may return to taking long throws but with the arrival of Kouider-Aissa, Livi will be able to keep an aerial striker in the box during these actions.
Kouider-Aissa's work-rate has been praised, fitting perfectly into the club's philosophy of working just as hard off the ball as when in possession with it. The Lions work-rate has caused many teams issues, especially in home games where they give the opposition very little time to get settled, reaping the rewards on multiple occasions. With Gary Holt and team not afraid to exclude those not putting the effort in, the striker must've shown enough grit and determination within his trial to merit being signed. As well as this, Kouider-Aissa offers Livi more options, something they haven't been blessed with in recent seasons.
In the Lions first season back in the top flight, they relied mainly on Dolly Menga, not a natural striker, and Ryan Hardie with Lee Miller absent throughout the season due to injuries. Hardie alone up top did not suit Livi's style of play, struggling with hold up play and preferring to use his pace to get in between the channels whilst Menga seemed more effective at times just simply due to being much more physical. Scott Robinson was also asked to do a job and although the former Hearts midfielder does put himself about, he's not a natural forward. The following season would see the Lions without Hardie and Menga, with the emergence of Lyndon Dykes doing wonders for the club.
Although Dykes would go onto have an excellent season, he was Livi's only real striking option for the season. Miller would remain injured and leave for Falkirk, young Jack Hamilton would be loaned to Queen of the South leaving Robinson again as the backup forward. Luckily, Dykes hit the ground running but there were instances were Livi were short-handed, due to suspension and injuries. These factors are unpredictable and Livi were somewhat lucky to have avoided these setbacks. In certain instances, most notably a dull 0-0 draw at home with Hamilton, Livi were screaming out for an extra option to help them get over the finishing line and were unable to make a genuine change in attacking personnel or formation. However, with the acquisition of Kouider-Aissa and even new signing Matej Poplatnik, the West Lothian side have options from the start if they need to switch someone out forcefully or tactically. Or even should Gary Holt stick solely with Dykes, a bit of competition is always good to keep players hungry and motivated.
Over the past few seasons, Livi have operated using the 3-5-2 or 4-2-3-1formations. Despite using a 3-5-2 often in the top flight, it has only really featured one main striker, with an attacking midfielder like the aforementioned Robinson or Scott Pittman playing closest to the forward. When pressing forward and in need of goals, Livi can now easily switch to this formation with the correct personnel for the first time since the play-off winning season. As well as this, with Kouider-Aissa's tenacity and mobility, he could feature out wide should the club continue with the 4-2-3-1 they operated with a lot during last season. Kouider-Aissa has shown he is capable at driving inside from the left and striking on his preferred right foot. Kouider-Aissa wants to score goals and whether through the middle or coming in from out wide, he'll look to cause problems for defences. Livi have been known for being defensively solid and organised and the summer signings reflect the club's need to bolster their attack. Two forwards and a winger have highlighted where Gary Holt and co feel the squad needed to strengthen the most.
The former Queens Park striker showed his quality last season, a double against Championship side Queen of the South and a phenomenal finish versus Edinburgh City being particular highlights. The striker excelled in his opportunity back in professional football, with his move to Kilsyth Rangers possibly the best decision he made for his career. In many cases, the opportunity to drop down a level and simply play games and enjoy football once again is very much needed. Some players are suited better to challenging themselves against veterans in physical conditions rather than within a club's academy system. There have been many successes through this route, providing good inspiration for those who have suffered disappointment at professional clubs with Kouider-Aissa being another to add to the list. In Kouider-Aissa's instance, there's a good list of players he'll be hoping to replicate with his own fortunes.
Yes, Andrew Robertson's meteoric rise to the top has already been documented heavily so it's best to get it out of the way early. After failing to make the grade, Robertson ended up at the Hampden side to join up with Gardner Spiers. A first successful season in professional football for Robertson saw Queens Park finish third, with the young full-back gaining great experience in his 43 appearances. Despite being in the bottom flight of Scottish football, Robertson's form caught the eyes of many, including that of then Dundee United boss Jackie McNamara. From here, Robertson would only progress, with a spell at Hull before becoming a Liverpool legend and Scotland captain. The left-back has certainly come a long way since being rejected from clubs as a youth, with the experience in the lower divisions doing him a world of good.
Before Robertson's rise, the Dundee United and Queens Park 'partnership' began with the emergence of another tricky left-back, Barry Douglas. A victim of the "you're too small" curse at youth level, Douglas was released by Livingston in a season where the Lions set a record low points total in a shambolic season. After taking a year out, Douglas would end up at Queens Park, close to home for the Pollok native, breaking into the first team in 2008. During his time at the club, the side's amateur part-time status allowed the full-back to work on a trade to possibly fall back on if things didn't work out. Despite being in a poorish side, Douglas would thrive in the lower leagues, becoming the club's top scorer in the 2009-10 season, still operating as a defender. With this, Dundee United would take the jump and offer Douglas the chance to play in the top flight, a chance he jumped at. Like Robertson, this wouldn't be a jump that Douglas wasn't capable of, making great progressions before moving to Poland, Turkey and now currently the English Championship. Douglas' recent seasons have been plagued with injury and the full-back is desperately unlucky to not have more Scotland caps, mainly due to the man who replaced him at Dundee United many years ago.
The same as with Robertson, without the influence of Queens Park and even Dundee United, Douglas wouldn't have made such a great career for himself outwith Scottish football. It does make you question how players like Robertson and Douglas can fall off the radar so quickly, having to join an amateur side in order to get a fair chance. Both leaving Premiership sides, it seems baffling that they were unable to find other professional clubs within the three other divisions and makes you ponder what talents have fallen through the cracks.
Douglas and Robertson are the biggest examples of players switching Hampden for Tannadice but by no means the only ones to make the jump from not only city but leagues too. Alongside Robertson, Aidan Connolly moved to Dundee United at the same time with a better example of success being Ross County's Blair Spittal, a player who has gone on to become a constant starter for the Staggies and old club Partick Thistle in the top flight.
Dundee United's Lawrence Shankland is the most recent example, with Aberdeen taking a punt on the striker following a good spell at Queens Park. Dons fans will be disappointed that the striker wasn't given a good chance at Pittodrie, with Shankland having to drop down the leagues again to prove himself. And prove himself he did, with a couple of superb seasons at Ayr United where he scored over 60 goals in two seasons. After another courageous decision and proving himself, Shankland earned a move to Dundee United and built on his reputation, now considered one of the countries best talents despite not really appearing in the top flight. Nonetheless, this hasn't got in the way of the striker being called up for Scotland and being linked with a number of clubs. Again, like Robertson and Douglas, this doesn't happen without the forward taking the chance at Queens Park.
There's a good record of Queens Park repairing careers for many players, with Kouider-Aissa hopefully the next to follow in line. In terms of the team he has been given this opportunity to be a part of, although biased, it may be the best place for him to develop furthermore. Following relegation to League 1 in 2016, Livi faced a large rebuild, clearing a lot of the team who had failed the season prior. With this, the club looked to those around them, particularly Airdrieonians, for their new-look team. A team was assembled of lower league players and those on the cusp of the first team within the Championship. Here the club would pick up the likes of Alan Lithgow, Shaun Byrne, Josh Mullin and Nicky Cadden to develop alongside the recently acquired Craig Halkett and returning Declan Gallagher. The following season, the club added Scott Robinson and Lee Miller as well as key loan spells for Jordan Thompson, Ryan Hardie and Jack McMillan. Each of these players all had something to prove, whether it was redemption or simply proving their worth after finally getting a chance, leading to the club returning to the top flight, two seasons after being relegated to League 1.
In the top flight, this sort of recruitment continued, with the club looking to those in the Championship this time and securing Craig Sibbald, Ricki Lamie and Steven Lawless and managing to get Liam Kelly to return following his release from Rangers. The season after, the club again did excellent business, bringing in the experienced Marvin Bartley, Robbie Crawford and Lyndon Dykes into the first team. All of these players mentioned have seen great strides in their careers, with either lucrative moves to other teams, career-best seasons or receiving great recognition from the club. The transfer record at Livi in recent seasons has been exceptional with the odd dud here and there but for the most part, it's been a great place for those to advance their careers. This record has also helped the club recently by allowing them to sign players who they might not have been able to in recent years. Alan Forrest was wanted by a number of clubs but chose the West Lothian side which is a great credit to the club. It's also worth mentioning that African Cup of Nations winner Efe Ambrose chose to sign for the club, a signing that still seems truly miraculous.
Within the Livingston set-up, the career of Scott Pittman is the most fitting to compare completely with Kouider-Aissa. Pittman was a youth player at Hamilton Accies but never made the grade and was released, leaving him to join up with his father's side Broxburn Athletic. Pittman would spend three years at the junior side before moving onto Bo'ness United. Similarly to Kouider-Aissa, Pittman would flourish due to the game time and experience he was getting, doing well enough to be signed up by the Lions directly from the junior level. Livingston were in the Championship at the time with juggernauts Rangers, Hearts and Hibs all in the league at the time. Within months of his signing, Pittman was a regular and has been ever since, being a key part in the club's recent successes with over 200 appearances for the West Lothian outfit. With the leap made from Pittman, Kouider-Aissa can learn first hand from the midfielder among others in order to help get used to the full-time status.
It's going to be exciting to see how the move for Kouider-Aissa works out as hopefully, he becomes another success story from the lower leagues. It's too easy for clubs up here to take up players from other leagues due to affiliation with big clubs and ignore the talent we have in Scotland. With a talented and hungry player at a team known for giving players a chance, we can only wait and see just how the 24-year-old striker gets on at the Tony Macaroni Arena. With the lack of properly highlighted friendlies or the Betfred Cup, Kouider-Aissa could very well be chucked in at the deep end. The striker has already faced adversities in his career so far and came out stronger, showing great resiliency to bounce back. For Livi fans, the first chance to properly see the striker in action could be on August 1st, away to St Mirren, although unsure as to whether the away fans will be able to watch this live. If he plays, it won't be the way he imagined making his debut in the top flight but regardless of that, it'll be a proud moment for himself and those who helped get him there.