Motherwell manager Stuart Kettlewell has warned Riku Danzaki faces a battle to break into his team.

The Japanese midfielder arrived from a spell with Brisbane Roar in January and played in Steven Hammell’s final three matches, but only featured once under Kettlewell, as an 89th-minute substitute in a 2-0 win over Hearts on February 19.

Injuries were partly to blame for his absence but Kettlewell was happy with the likes of Blair Spittal, Callum Slattery and Harry Paton in his midfield.

The 23-year-old was viewed as a player whose impact would increase once he settled into Scotland and the style of football but he looks like he faces a challenge to get into Kettlewell’s plans.

The Motherwell manager said: “I never signed Riku, it has been really hard to get him on the park, there have been a number of issues in terms of his fitness. He was back fit for a few days then had to drop out. It’s been a frustration for hm and the football club, it’s been very much stop-start.

“Obviously Riku sits with a contract at the football club, he was brought here for a reason, but prior to that when he was fit, it was difficult for him to get into the team as well. We only go based on results and performances in training and what we see on the pitch on a Saturday and it has been difficult for him to get in.

“It’s hard when it’s that change of culture and country, I acknowledge all these factors, but these things are all taken into consideration when there are decisions made on who plays. I’ve been very loyal to guys who have been fit and able to play for us on a Saturday, and that’s what I believe in.

“Riku, technically, you can understand why he was brought to the club for a particular style of play. That has substantially changed, in terms of formation. Riku would probably indicate he is a number 10. I have not played with a number 10 at times.

“I see it a completely different way, so that would probably let you acknowledge why it could be difficult for him at times to get in. ”

Motherwell returned for pre-season training on Monday morning with Ricki Lamie present after getting a hernia surgery late last season after the Steelmen had secured their top-flight status.

“I need to pay testament to Ricki, because a lot of players would have wanted to get that operation done instantly,” Kettlewell said.

“Ricki still felt he could offer us something, he was still available. I know he would have wanted more game-time, but such has been the form of the guys at the back that it has been difficult to get into the team.

“But full marks, in the modern day where sometimes I think players are quite happy to miss training sessions and games, but Ricki didn’t miss a single thing.

“We got him in for surgery a wee bit earlier and that gave him the chance to start pre-season and make sure he is fully up to speed.”

Motherwell have confirmed Josh Morris has been released amid an update on players’ contracts at the cinch Premiership club.

The 31-year-old midfielder signed from Salford on a two-year deal last July.

Morris only played 12 times, the last appearance in a 2-1 home defeat to Celtic in November and had been out with an unspecified injury.

The Fir Park club revealed 14 other players – including Max Johnston, Jake Carroll, Dean Cornelius, Sean Goss, and Jack Aitchison – are out of contract with talks with a number of them ongoing.

Loan players James Furlong, Stuart McKinstry, Jon Obika and Olly Crankshaw have returned to their parent clubs, while Barry Maguire, Connor Shields and Robbie Mahon will be back from temporary stints elsewhere.

Manager Stuart Kettlewell, who took over as Well boss in February following the departure of Steven Hammell, told the club’s official website: “I want to personally thank each individual player for their efforts since I arrived at the club.

“Everyone has made an impact at this club in their tenure and helped steer the club to not only another season in the Premiership, but to a strong finish that will only benefit this club at the start of next season.

“We are still speaking with a number of players at this very early stage of the summer and hope to get clarity on each situation very soon.

“For the players departing the club, I wish them all the very best in the future.”

Motherwell goalkeeper Liam Kelly aims to take momentum as well as lessons into next season.

The Steelmen moved up to seventh in the cinch Premiership ahead of Saturday’s visit of Ross County after being joint-bottom when Stuart Kettlewell took charge in early February.

Kelly feels their poor form in the second half of last season carried over into this campaign and he wants to ensure they can roll over into next term with the type of performances that have seen them collect 23 points in three months.

Kelly said: “Seventh is the best we can get so we want to stay there so we can keep improving and hopefully that will stand us in good stead for next season as well.

“You can never call what will happen but the form from the end of last season, we maybe took that into the start of this season.

“If we can finish this season in good form then hopefully that will help us at the start of next season. That’s definitely the plan anyway.”

The Well skipper admits it has seemed a long season, especially given two managers have departed in Graham Alexander and Steven Hammell.

“It’s my first ever time having three different managers,” he said. “That Sligo game seems a long time ago.

“But a good season, a really good learning season, loads of different experiences, highs and lows, ones we will be better for. We know exactly what we don’t want to experience again. I think we will be better for it.

“We have had a mixture of results and performances but since the manager came in we have really steadied and been consistent.

“We knew the feeling from October through to January/February so we don’t want to experience that again, and we know what it takes not to experience that.

“We know what it takes but we also know that if we let our standards drop then we could slip back into our old way. That will not be happening again.”

Motherwell manager Stuart Kettlewell would be “amazed” if any Scottish club could afford to buy player-of-the-year contender Kevin van Veen.

The 31-year-old is open to a summer move after hitting 25 goals so far this season and being nominated for top player in the PFA Scotland awards.

But Kettlewell is comfortable the Dutchman is happy at Fir Park unless both he and the club receive an offer they cannot refuse.

“I would be amazed if a club in Scotland could come up with the money we would be thinking about for Kevin van Veen,” said the Motherwell manager, whose team face St Johnstone on Saturday.

“This is where he is so categorically, I am so categoric; as it stands, unless someone was able to put life-changing money in front of Motherwell – and it would have to be both parties – then he will remain a Motherwell player.”

Van Veen has a year left on his contract and spoke about the potential for a summer move after his award nomination was announced on Wednesday – but there were no surprises for Kettlewell in what his player said.

“I am comfortable that I have had so many conversations with Kevin on a personal level, manager to striker,” Kettlewell said.

“And the one thing we both agree on is that he is extremely happy here, that the football club is really happy with him, the supporters love him and I love working with him on a daily basis.

“But there is always a cross point where, if someone puts a ridiculous offer in front of you, sometimes the football club have to profit on it.”

Motherwell made a deficit of about £1million last season and this season’s loss is expected to be even higher.

Kettlewell said: “It would be safe to say it’s been a really challenging year for the club financially. We don’t want to get rid of the player but sometimes an offer comes along that you can’t say no to. I think that’s all that Kevin was saying as well.”

There were strong rumours of a potential move to China earlier this year but no switch materialised before the country’s transfer window closed in early April.

When asked if there had been concrete interest in the Dutchman, Kettlewell said: “There’s not been anything this last spell.

“I have heard a lot of speculation. Every part of a situation that involves Kevin van Veen or any player, they are 100 per cent aware of any situation where there is contact directly to the club or myself.

“When I was a player, if that wasn’t made known to you by the powers that be at the club then I think you create a real problem for yourself.

“Anybody that contacts me or the club, the conversation is had with the player. It’s never to disrupt them, it’s always the opposite.

“It could be something that’s serious, it could be something that’s pure speculation. It could be something that’s in the press that has not happened that disrupts a player, which by the way is happening continuously.

“If there’s something official the player will hear about it directly from myself.”

Motherwell striker Kevin van Veen joked that journalists thought he was on the whisky when he revealed the goal targets he realised to become a player of the year candidate.

The 31-year-old Dutch forward, who joined Well from Scunthorpe in 2021, is the only non-Celtic player among the four nominees for the PFA Scotland Premiership player of the year award.

Van Veen is on the shortlist alongside the title-winning Hoops trio of Reo Hatate, Kyogo Furuhashi and last season’s winner Callum McGregor.

Van Veen has scored 25 goals this term for the eight-placed Steelmen, including 13 in his last 12 games, and is currently joint second-highest scorer in the top flight, alongside Hearts’ Lawrence Shankland, with 21 to his name.

Furuhashi has notched 30 goals in all competitions and sits top of the Premiership scoring charts with 24.

Van Veen said: “I always believed in myself. That’s why I said last year when journalists came to the club, ‘I am going to chase the top scorers in this league’ and I have done it this year.

“No, they definitely did not (believe him). They probably thought this was just a random Motherwell striker talking, had a whisky in the morning and he is probably not all there.

“I said it because I believed in myself. I know what I am capable of. I am just very happy that I have shown people what I am capable of and what I can do.”

Van Veen still has another year on his contract and asked about the speculation around his future he said. “I can’t say anything other than I am focused on Motherwell.

“I love playing for the club, they gave me a platform to show what I can do.

“But if the club gets a very good transfer sum in the summer, I am willing to help the club.

“It doesn’t mean I want to leave but if everyone is happy and everyone thinks it is the right thing then we need to sit round the table and see what’s best for the player and the club. We have to see what will happen.”

On his nomination, Van Veen said: “I am very happy. To get recognition from the players you have played against, it shows I have done something to impress them.

“I think the other three nominees are sensational players, it is a pretty good achievement for myself.”

Motherwell manager Stuart Kettlewell believes Kevin van Veen deserves to be in contention for the Gallagher Premiership player of the year award.

The Dutchman scored his 25th goal of a stellar personal campaign in Saturday’s 2-0 victory over Kilmarnock, after Blair Spittal had given Well an early lead.

The Celtic trio of Kyogo Furuhashi, Cameron Carter-Vickers and Reo Hatate are expected to be among the leading contenders when the nominations are announced by PFA Scotland next week but Kettlewell also made the case for Van Veen.

He said: “If I was a player I would vote for him. But I’m not in control of any of that stuff. I think he’s had a brilliant season, not just his goalscoring.

“It’s about how he approaches it every single week. You have to pitch his personal achievements up against most in the division.

“It’s great that at Motherwell we’ve got a striker that everybody is talking about. He had a moment in the first half where he chops inside with a Cruyff turn after the ball came down with snow on it. That was pretty amazing as well.”

Van Veen is likely to move on from Fir Park in the summer but Kettlewell insists the speculation has not affected the Dutchman’s form.

He added: “We all know what he’s capable of but sometimes it’s not just about the player, it’s about the person. I thought he handled himself absolutely brilliantly as well.

“There’s plenty of hype and talk about him and it’s very easy to think the players are like robots and can keep just churning it out. I’m more delighted with the person today than the player.

“I’ve said it before but if Kevin – or other players – aren’t doing it then we’re not speaking about it.

“And we’ve now got a situation where we are talking about it – although I don’t want to talk about it too much. Just in general you want people to speak about your players when they’re doing well.

“Nothing changes from where we are. The players are all in it for the cause and approaching every game the way they should do, whether there’s speculation or not. That’s the demands I put on them.

“They’re not going out there thinking about what might happen in four or five weeks’ time. We’re just focusing on each game.”

Kilmarnock are now just one point off the bottom of the table but have three of their final four matches at Rugby Park.

Manager Derek McInnes hopes that will play in their favour.

He said: “We needed a win away from home because we can’t be totally dependent on our home form. But the stats show how strong we have been at home, and we’ve got to try and utilise that.

“We’re going to have a big support at home next week against Livingston. Livi are safe, and there is more on the game from our point of view clearly, and we need to demonstrate that in our performance.”

Motherwell manager Stuart Kettlewell has assured supporters the club have done all they can to keep out-of-contract players such as Max Johnston and Dean Cornelius – and is comfortable with waiting for answers.

Kettlewell insists there has been no negative impact of working without a chief executive and he has also made offers to other players outside the club.

Academy players Johnston and Cornelius have been an integral part of Kettlewell’s team since he took over in February but have both been linked with moves under freedom of contract, although Motherwell would be entitled to compensation.

Speaking ahead of Saturday’s cinch Premiership match against Kilmarnock, Kettlewell said: “We have been really proactive, as much as we possibly can, in a number of situations and I have always been a person who is very, very calm in these situations.

“I hear people start to worry and panic and all the rest of it. When you as a football club and a manager have taken every step you possibly can, make it known what players you want, put offers down in front of them, try to make that as lucrative as you can in relation to what your club can offer, then I think there comes a point where you have to step back and just be calm about it and allow players to make their decisions and take advice from the relevant people.

“I believe in development, I believe in trying to hit milestones as a player, being on the park, becoming a better player and a better person as well. If you think Motherwell is the place where you will become both a better player and a better person, then this is the right place for you.

“If it’s not, then it’s not, so I don’t ever get too caught up in it.

“There has to be a point where we take a step back. We have done absolutely everything we possibly can.

“I am really comfortable with that, and we will find out what the decisions are through time.”

Kettlewell earlier stated that he had spent Wednesday “covering absolutely everything across the football club”.

Motherwell have gone through March and April without a chief executive since Alan Burrows left for Aberdeen, and potential appointments have fallen through but Kettlewell declared that had not been a problem for him.

“We have an interim process and I am working very, very closely with one of the board members that has a wealth of experience in a number of different fields,” he said.

“So that has been a terrific support to me and that’s been a terrific support to the football club.

“That is going to be a shorter-term process which allows the club to make the correct appointment at the end of it.

“There is no point in us elaborating on it too much because it is that interim, short-term process, but it is 100 per cent being done for the right reasons and there is no stone being unturned off the back of it.

“But there will be a process that hopefully we have that longer-term plan.”

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