Gee, McGhee, You Give Celtic Such Glee.


Roy Aitken Takes Down McGhee


It would be too easy to make fun of Aberdeen on this occasion.  I’ve often taken great delight in it. As a Rangers fan with an Aberdeen supporting father and brother the occasions when you can use no other word but ‘hapless’ to describe Aberdeen tickle me in the just the right way. This time it feels different though. This time it feels like we are all part of a joke that on Saturday afternoon went slightly too far. 9-0.

The look on Shaun Maloney‘s face as he won the second and then later a third penalty for Celtic would sum the entire episode up. A mixture of delight to be winning, and winning convincingly, with pain. He was watching the team from the city where he spent a considerable part of his childhood capitulate before his very eyes.

And we were all privy to it. The completion of an unravelling of Aberdeen FC that has been in progress since the early 90’s.

Of course, we don’t all lament the result in the way that Shaun Maloney possibly does. We don’t all have affiliations with Aberdeen city or football club that would see us mourn for them, instead of laugh. But we can all lament the result because of the wider implications for Scottish football. The downward trajectory of our sport north of the border while the English Premier League has risen to the heady heights of world football has been embarrasing, and a lot of the reason why this has happened could be said to be on display in this very game.

Here we see the gap between Old Firm and the rest of pack widen, undeniably. A once great side now lying in tatters at the feet of the Hoops. Since finishing second in the Premier Division in the season ending 1994, they have stumbled like drunks from one crisis to another. A period of hazy sobriety in the mid 2000s seemed to have stopped the rot, but here we are again, arguably at the lowest point in the club’s history.

This is Aberdeen’s worst ever defeat and the worst defeat in Scottish Premier League history. This comes in a season where Celtic and Rangers were considered to have as their weakest squads in a number of years, a season that once again would see the chasing pack rein in the Old Firm. Closer to Pittodrie, this was supposed to be a season where Mark McGhee put Aberdeen back on the front foot. After a promising start it has come to absolutely nothing.

Aberdeen’s current squad is simply not good enough for the standard which Scottish football should at least aspire to, if not actually attain. Rangers and Celtic are not the lavish spending powerhouses they were of the late 90s and early 2000s, but as their squads have shrank, their quality dropped, it seems that everyone else has also gotten worse. But the proportions have remained the same, allowing for the already unassailable gap that the Old Firm have already opened up over everyone else.

In the current Dons’ squad we see a legacy of failed youngsters and bad transfer decisions. Langfield, Considine, Mackie and the laughable Diamond are seemingly the backbone of the team, while remaining the focal point of the fans’ ire. They languish below the expected quality of a team with the history of Aberdeen. Yet there they remain. It does not compute.

Aberdeen have also seen a number of key players from recent seasons disappear into the relative obscurity of the English lower leagues. Barry Nicholson, Lee Miller, Russell Anderson. Chris Maguire, Peter Pawlett and Fraser Fyvie may one day show the potential to replace the current crop, but would the Dons be able to hold onto these players. The answer to that is ‘no’, and it is staring the Pittodrie faithful right in the face, obvious to everyone but the board and their manager.

This, coupled with a manager who seems to have no idea what direction he is taking the team in has been a recipe for the current disaster. Brought in because the board felt Jimmy Calderwood had taken them as far as he could (and because the fans hated his style of football [Everyone does- Ed.]) Mark McGhee has been a disaster in almost every conceivable way. His media handling, terrible; the style of football, terrible; his policy in the transfer market, terrible. What Aberdeen would give to have the stability of the Calderwood era back now.

McGhee’s dealing with the press is one of my personal irks, but that is a story for another article. After watching the game at Celtic Park on the BBC highlights service, it is his tactical approach and his player choice that must be called into question. How will her ever achieve the style of play that seems so important to Aberdeen fans?

My aforementioned brother once said that he would never go back to Pittodrie as long as Calderwood was in charge as the football was just dreadful. Sit in, absorb pressure, lump the ball up the park. McGhee would change that. But it is apparent that he has not. One could argue that he does not have the players at his disposal to play anything approaching samba soccer and while this is true, the manager does not help. Consider two key pieces of summer transfer business at Pittodrie. Charlie Mulgrew was sold to Celtic and (inexplicably considering what has happened) Richie Foster, a versatile midfielder and defender, was allowed on loan to Rangers. This left Aberdeen with no recognisable full backs. Now, many pundits (the peerless Jonathan Wilson included) would argue that the full back in the most important player on the pitch. In attacking sides who retain possession, they become doubly important. They trek up the flanks and support the midfield, giving options to the creative playmakers and supplying crosses to the box. With this in mind, why would Mark McGhee operate with a squad which is essentially sans full back, when he is attempting to play a more exciting variety of football?

Your guess is as good as mine and the problems that develop from these issues manifested themselves on the field on Saturday afternoon.

But, unfortunately these problems are not simply limited to Aberdeen. When watching Sportscene on a Sunday night, or later on the iPlayer it is all too easy to spot similar tactical misgivings going on at other Scottish clubs outside the Old Firm. At Celtic Park on Saturday the men in red defended like ‘headless chickens’. You really couldn’t put it any other way. But this happens at Easter Road, at New Douglas Park, at McDiarmid Park and at many other Scottish, top flight, grounds with increasing and unceasing regularity. While having a good laugh at Aberdeen, supporters of the other Scottish teams, and of the Old Firm (because you need capable competition) should consider them a case study. Not everyone will lose 9-0 at Celtic Park, but almost everyone else is in the same boat. Unfortunately, their boat lacks a paddle.

Colin Farquhar.



Filed under Football, Soccer, Uncategorized

4 responses to “Gee, McGhee, You Give Celtic Such Glee.

  1. Graham

    Good article Colin. As someone who has the misfortune of seeing the Dons more frequently than is healthy, I have a few points of order that need to be made:

    Every club in the country was tight for cash before the banking crisis and credit crunch hit. The fact that the Old Firm have poorer squads this year is irrelevant because the non-OF clubs have even less money to spend than they did before so the gap remains the same (or indeed is even bigger since the OF can at least afford transfer fees for the most part).

    Aberdeen have indeed lost their fair share of players to the Championship, but this again is solely down to money. Aberdeen pay good wages by SPL standards, but the fact of the matter is that the Championship is the 6th richest league in Europe in terms of wages after the top tiers in England, Spain, Germany, Italy and France. Money talks, and even the Aberdeen of the end of the 20th century would struggle to compete with those sorts of wages.

    I agree completely that the Foster move was baffling, save for the opportunity to recoup some cash for a product of the Pittodrie youth system. Mulgrew however was not sold; he was out of contract and left on a free transfer. As much as a set-piece threat as he was though, he was also even less capable of defending than the current Pittodrie rear-guard, as Celtic discovered on their incredibly brief sortie into European competition this season. Some of McGhee’s transfer dealings are absolutely questionable, but they balance themselves out – for every Ifil there is a Hartley or a Vernon.

    The Calderwood era is a tricky one to tackle. Yes, there was the relative stability that meant that, over the course of 38 games, the Dons would somehow find themselves in the top half of the league, but this was balanced out by the appalling cup performances. I personally think that Calderwood should have been given another season (backed up with money that he had earned the right to spend which was ultimately used to pay him off). The man was a success at Pittodrie by most statistical analyses that you could perform, but the ends don’t always justify the means. I have no problem with winning ugly, but when all you can do is win ugly it’s understandable that you get frustrated with Jimmy’s infamous tactical tombola.

    The weekend’s humiliation will take a long time to get over and I would wager that there are a fair number of fans who won’t set foot inside Pittodrie while McGhee is in charge (or indeed ever again). Objectively though, it was a freak result in 1 game out of 38. And a pro-Celtic refereeing conspiracy.

    • clnfrqhr

      Cheers for the comment Graham and the compliment. It’s nice to get feedback.

      First, apologies for getting the Mulgrew situation wrong. I completely forgot that he was out of contract. I should have checked that while writing.

      I was wondering what your reaction to tonight’s result was. I have to be honest, I thought the Aberdeen players would have had the grit to bounce back against what is a decent Caley side. I’m quite shocked they lost. Where do they go now? And if McGhee does get the chop, who would you like to replace him?


  2. Graham

    To be honest a lot of the “McGhee must go” comments in the aftermath of the Caley have so far come from people who weren’t at the game. Inverness haven’t lost away from home for a year now but Aberdeen played decently in spells, had a soft penalty awarded against them, scored a good equaliser and never deserved to lose the game.

    As for where to go from here, I don’t see the point in sacking McGhee. He’s only had one proper summer transfer window to work with (he barely got a chance last year) and anyone coming in would have absolutely no money available to buy players.

    Graham Hunter (@BumperGraham) mentioned Stuart Baxter on Twitter last night. He’d be an interesting option, but he’d be completely shackled by the financial situation.

  3. Pingback: The Rise of the Killie & the Demise of the Dons | Scheidt's Footballing Miscellany

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