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.