By Robbie Hanratty
Aberdeen Chairman, Dave Cormack, gave his backing of manager Derek McInnes on Monday evening after there was loud speculation circulating social media that he was about to be sacked after last weekend’s 2-0 defeat away to Hibs. This outcome of trust from the Chairman may have come for many reasons at this challenging time for the club and Scottish football.
As the 2020/21 Scottish Premiership season kicked off in August, Derek McInnes was widely regarded in the media as having the strongest squad of his managerial tenure at his disposal.
Fast forward six months and any positive vibes around Aberdeen Football Club are a distant memory. From key players missing games due to the infamous ‘Covid eight’ incident to having to sell key assets such as Scott McKenna and Sam Cosgrove. Now they are deep in a rut that’s seen the Dons pick up just one win in nine games played this year. Form in modern football that would often see a manager sent packing.
It’s a run that includes a 4-1 battering from relegation-threatened Ross County and a third defeat of the campaign to Rangers, with goals at a premium. They were beaten by Hibernian last week and having failed to find the back of the net in that loss, they are without a goal in their last five outings after today’s goalless draw with St Mirren. The Dons now trail Hibernian by four points in the race for third place. Even then with Celtic’s form dipping so low earlier in the season, both Aberdeen and Hibs fans will feel their clubs should’ve capitalised.
Q & A Pledge
Dave Cormack promised to be transparent and keep the fans involved with the ins and outs of the club during times where fans can’t be present at Pittodrie.
He has been extremely open about his intentions as chairman from day one. Cormack stated he wants Aberdeen FC to become a “UEFA top-100 club” as well as a club that “inspires fans with an exciting brand of football, that has its roots in homegrown talent to produce winning performances that get supporters up off their feet, with intensity and pace”.
On the evidence of the last 18 months or more, football under the current management hasn’t been providing that.
The club announced that at 7pm on Tuesday 16th February, Rob McLean will host a live Q & A session with the Chairman on club’s YouTube channel. They say that the event will be unfiltered, allowing all Aberdeen supporters with a valid Dons ID to submit a question via the club’s website.
It will be interesting to see if the club keep by their word and address as many key matters as possible come Tuesday.
Entertainment is something Dons fans just aren’t receiving at the moment with the current run of form, so there will no doubt be an array of questions fired at the chairman in regard to the uninspiring football on offer. Anyone who has frequently watched Aberdeen this season will echo the lack of desire, quality and leadership throughout the team.
There has also been years of debate over the possibility of Aberdeen keeping their stadium in the city with a development opportunity opening up down at the beach. Rather than building a brand-new stadium out with the city boundaries at Kingsford, where the new Cormack Park training ground lies. Whilst debunking the mystery around £800,000 January 2020 signing Ronald Hernandez will certainly be on the agenda for some. With the Venezuelan international only featuring six times for the club.
A natural talking point will also be how the club is coping financially as a result of the pandemic with no immediate sign of fans being allowed back into football stadiums. A big turn in performances will be needed to give fans an incentive to put their hands in their pockets and snap up season tickets, AberDNA and Red TV passes in the forthcoming months. When there’s no doubt fans will have felt the effect of the pandemic with losses of jobs and income.
Cormack must be given credit for sticking to his word during a time when discontent between the fans and the club couldn’t be more evident with many fans feeling that the club don’t take the fans views into consideration enough. Regardless of views towards the manager, players or chairman; this Q & A has the potential to be a good watch.
Leaving it late
Some might say fair play to the under-fire McInnes for identifying that his attack was letting him down with their threat in front of goal. However, I don’t think anyone expected the complete overhaul that came on deadline day. We discussed this overhaul in-depth on the BSR Sports YouTube Channel in the January Transfer roundup.
During his most recent press conference, McInnes mentioned that he wasn’t overwhelmed with the signings all being loans coming so late in the window when it was an area the club knew needed strengthening at the start of the window.
It was a straight exchange as three strikers departed whilst three came arrived on deadline day. Scotland under 21s record scorer, Fraser Hornby from French Ligue 1 side Reims and Callum Hendry from fellow Premiership side St Johnstone both joined the club until the end of the season. Former Hibernian and Rangers striker Florian Kamberi also signed on loan from Swiss Super League side St Gallen in a drastic shake-up of to the Dons front line.
Aberdeen secured around £2 million for striker Sam Cosgrove, who departed for English Championship side Birmingham. The 24-year-old, signed for around £40,000 in January 2018, scored 47 times in 103 appearances for the club but only netted three times in 16 games this campaign. Receiving that sort of money in return has got to be seen as some much-needed business for the club during a time when income has been hit so severely by the pandemic. Adding on the £3 million fee received for the sale of Scott McKenna to Nottingham Forrest in September, this income could be vital in keeping the club afloat.
Bruce Anderson was loaned out again but this time to fellow Premiership side Hamilton Academical. Whilst fellow striker Curtis Main left the club on a free and joined English Football League side, Shrewsbury Town.
Derek McInnes’s side also saw forwards Ryan Edmondson and Marley Watkins return to their parent clubs, while Aberdeen youth academy graduate Scott Wright completed a permanent move to Rangers.
It is also alarming that a large percentage of the Dons squad are out of contract at the end of the season, with no recognised senior striker currently contracted for next season.
Putting trust in experience
Veteran attacker, Niall McGinn addressed the media to preview the upcoming game against St Mirren. He wasn’t afraid to vent his disappointed in his lack of opportunities this season but now sees Scott Wright’s departure and Ryan Hedges injury lay off as the perfect chance to get a run of games. Many Aberdeen fans will feel that the Northern Ireland international could be the experienced head they need to turn their poor form around.
McInnes stated recently that despite Niall seeming like a quiet character, he does have “fire in his belly” and really cares about Aberdeen winning football games. He has played over 300 games for the club scoring 86 goals, some which have been crucial in the long run. Everyone associated with the club will be hoping they can see a hint of the Niall McGinn of old between now and the end of the season.
It is also thought that the Aberdeen manager may revert to a back four and call on the experience of Shay Logan for future games. Right-back, Logan has been one of the first names on the team sheet during his seven-year spell at the Dons, however, he has found game time limited this campaign with the manager opting to start with a back three in the majority of games.
Things gone stale
In a pre-covid world no one would be too surprised to see McInnes leave the club given the current run of form. Dave Cormack’s recent decision to back the manager, who has one year left on his lucrative contract, could be seen as financial one rather than one based on the footballing performances. With the impact of the pandemic meaning the club can’t afford to sack McInnes.
Every manager has a shelf life and it’s now been eight years McInnes has been in charge in the Granite City. I can’t imagine that many people still have the same enthusiasm for their job eight years down the line, in comparison to when they first started out.
McInnes has guided Aberdeen to European qualification on seven consecutive seasons. Although, he has yet to make the group stages during his tenure.
The last two campaigns have saw his side slip to fourth in the league, finishing behind Steve Clarke’s Kilmarnock in 2018/19 then Motherwell in 2019/20, albeit the season was halted early as a result of the coronavirus pandemic.
Pundits and fans often say that McInnes has that nick of getting a positive result when the pressures on. That statement itself has been put in jeopardy in recent times. Others say that the Dons would’ve gained third place last season if the remaining fixtures were fulfilled. However, for me the reality of gathering just two wins in their last ten games of the season was what really cost them.
As we enter the business end of the season, the importance of securing third spot in the League and guaranteeing Europa League football is clear. Both for the financial implications on the club and also for his own managerial performance. With the resumption of this seasons Scottish Cup still in jeopardy and Aberdeen already knocked out of the Scottish League Cup by St Mirren, large sections of the Aberdeen fan base will only accept third place this season or they will be calling for the managers head once again.
Everyone can acknowledge where Aberdeen was when Derek McInnes took over from Craig Brown in 2013 and how he has brought them back to where they belong. Challenging for silverware and playing in Europe is an expectancy now. Despite this, McInnes has just one League Cup trophy to show for his spell in the Granite City and with his win percentage dropping during the last three seasons, even with the vote of confidence from the board, things could be a lot better.
Maybe he has been a victim of his own success and consistency throughout his tenure?, but a natural parting of ways come summer would seem the most likely.
The majority of Aberdeen fans seem to be in agreement that fresh ideas may be needed and that this negative brand of football giving the results it currently is cannot continue until his contract runs down.
Next up for the Dons is the visit of Champions Celtic at Celtic Park. Neil Lennon’s side are having a poor season for their standards currently occupying second place in the league and it looks likely this is how it will finish, failing to win 10 in a row. Celtic are unbeaten in their last three games, scoring 10 and conceding one and will be hoping to bounce back from a disappointing season to the form we have seen of previous years. They will be full of confidence added to by the return of winger, James Forrest.
A win for Derek’s Dons on Wednesday might not change the outlook on his future but it would be a much welcomed three points if they are serious about getting out of this rut, especially with Celtic’s return to form it could be a result we all need.