4 Lesser-Known Players in the Scottish Premier League Who Could Start in the EPL

Paul MullaneyContributor IIMarch 12, 2013

4 Lesser-Known Players in the Scottish Premier League Who Could Start in the EPL

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    Celtic's performances in the Champions League this season have put it beyond any reasonable doubt (if indeed there was any) that they'd be more than capable of competing in the top half of the table in the EPL with their current group of players.

    Elsewhere, however, the reputation of Scottish football has continued on a steady decline, and it seems as though there are fewer and fewer players with the potential to go and succeed as first-team regulars in the English top flight.

    But that doesn't mean that there aren't any.

    Here are four who, based on both their current ability and the potential that they have as players, could start in the EPL.

Esmael Goncalves

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    Esmael Goncalves, or "Isma," might only be on loan at St. Mirren from Portuguese club Rio Ave, but he's become a firm favourite with the Buddies—and he might well write his name in Love Street folklore if he's able to lead his team to success in the League Cup final against Hearts.

    Goncalves has all of the attributes that you'd associate with the modern-day striker—strength, technique, pace—and at such a young age, you still feel as though he's yet to realise his full potential.

    He's shown absolutely no difficulty whatsoever adapting to the physical demands of the SPL, and were he to end up making the move to the English Premier League, you feel as though the physical aspect wouldn't pose much of a problem.  

Johnny Russell

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    Many around Tannadice feared that David Goodwillie's departure from the club would leave a gaping hole up front, but Russell's performances since stepping in to replace him a couple of years ago have made it easy for United fans to forget all about their last bleach-blonde hero.

    In fact, while perhaps not as physically strong as Goodwillie, Russell might be considered the better player, and with fewer off-the-field incidents getting in the way, he seems better placed to make a go of it in English football, even if the worry will be that he goes the same way.

    Like Leigh Griffiths, Russell is a natural goalscorer with excellent composure in front of goal, but unlike Griffiths, who is comfortable operating as the lone striker up front, Russell functions better with a strike partner up there who can create chances for him and who he, in turn, can create chances for.

    A broken leg will rule Russell out for the remainder of the season and thus deny him the chance to make his international debut with Scotland, but just as there was speculation surrounding a possible move to England during the January window, so too will there be similar speculation once it opens again in the summer.

Leigh Griffiths

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    Griffiths is something of a polemic figure within Scottish football with his off-the-field behaviour (racist comments made on social media, arrests for shoplifting) often overshadowing his exceptional talent as a striker, but it's getting harder to ignore just how good of a player he is.

    Granted, he made little, if any, impact during his last spell down in England with Wolves, but it would be unfair to judge him on such limited evidence, particularly when you consider the strides that he's made as a player since then and just how young he was.

    His goalscoring is now more prolific than ever, his work rate has increased dramatically, and he's now capable of shouldering responsibility, suggesting that he's matured as a footballer, if not as a man.

    The general consensus was that his previous move to English football came too early, and some suggest that even now, he's still too raw, but either way, it doesn't seem as though it'll be too long before he gets another chance to prove himself on a bigger stage.

Gary Mackay-Steven

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    If you haven't already heard of Gary Mackay-Steven, chances are it won't be too long before you do.

    The Dundee United winger has the sort of talent that makes people sit up and notice, and unlike many players who try outrageous pieces of skill just to show off on the field, GMS—as he's known around Tannadice—does it to beat his man, and more often than not, he does.

    Just watch that video.

    Injuries might have hampered his progression slightly with United, and it seems that just as soon as he's back fit after one injury, another slice of bad luck forces him out for another spell, but it's done little to affect his performances on the pitch.

    Comfortable playing on either flank, Mackay-Steven is about as natural of a dribbler as you're likely to see in British football and is just as capable of cutting inside and going for goal himself as he is delivering the ball from a wider position.

    A recent call-up to Gordon Strachan's Scotland squad for the upcoming qualifiers is only going to get him more attention, and it might be all that Jackie McNamara can do to ward off potential suitors come the summer.