Dons: Division One Next Season?

I remember going to see my first ever football match. It was the 1993/1994 season. The Scottish Cup Fourth Round tie at Pittodrie between Aberdeen and Raith Rovers.

Shearer – A True Star at Pittodrie

Aberdeen won 1-0 and from that day, I was hooked. Admittedly, I was taken by my mum and dad’s best friend, who was Angus the Bull and was lucky enough to have been shown around behind the scenes before and after the match. That did help!

But what I saw on that pitch mesmerised me.

The magic of players, such as Duncan Shearer, Eoin Jess and Scott Booth turned me into an Aberdeen fan over the course of the 90 minutes.

A lot has happened since then. And life in the Red Army is an interesting one.

The highs of winning the League Cup in 95/96 are remembered just as much as the lows of finishing bottom of the table in 99/00 (only staying in the top flight because Falkirk’s stadium didn’t fulfil SPL requirements). After the decent performances under Roy Aitken, things got worse and worse under Alex Miller and Ebbe Skovdahl, turning to dire under the alcoholic Steve Paterson. Aberdeen have been the most inconsistent team in the whole of Scottish football. Their steady decline mirroring the quality of M. Night Shyamalan’s more recent movies.

All that looked to change with the appointment of Jimmy Calderwood in 2004. And in his first season, the Tango Man pulled off his greatest feat at the Dons (including the European run in 07/08) – taking the team that had finished 11th the previous season and finishing 4th in the SPL. Calderwood’s tactics never set the world on fire – ironic considering his burnt complexion – but they got the job done.

Over the next four seasons, he guided Aberdeen to four successive top 6 finishes – 6th, 3rd, 4th and 4th, in that order – he took the team on an incredible UEFA Cup run, all the way to the knockout stages, where they drew 2-2 with Bayern Munich, before reality returned and they were humbled in the second leg. And in his final season, he, once again, achieved a European spot for the Dons.

“Thank you for 4th place, Jimmy. Don’t let the door hit you on the way out.”

However, Jimmy and Aberdeen were haunted by the usual Aberdeen inconsistency. The impressive achievements listed above pale in contrast to the humiliation of cup defeats at the hands of Queen’s Park, Queen of the South and Dunfermline. As one of the fans at the Dunfermline match, I cried like I did at the end of Titanic.

Ultimately, it was the combination of Jimmy’s negative tactics and the cup results that cost him his job. He was unceremoniously sacked immediately after Aberdeen secured European football in the last game of the 08/09 season – merely a year after signing a three and a half year contract. A move that rather smacks of financial complacency.

Director of Football Willie Miller and Chairman Stewart Milne were equally celebrated and lambasted by the Aberdeen fans for the move to remove Jimmy. Many felt that he had taken the team as far as he could, while others (myself included) felt the team, with the current crop of players, were punching above their weight as it was. Many of the players also voiced their negative feelings towards the move, as Jimmy was well-liked amongst the staff. He had grown close to many of the players – something that his successor has certainly failed.

The rumour-mill went around with many managers being linked to the top job at the Dons. Successful managers like Terry Butcher and Ossie Ardiles were rumoured to have applied for the position. And several former Aberdeen players, most notably Noel Whelan and the powerhouse of testosterone that is Dean Windass had gone public with their desire to take over. For a while, the top candidate seemed to be a relative unknown, whose covering letter was recently leaked to the press…

Dear Sir/Madam,

Following the departure of Jimmy Calderwood, I am writing to apply for the vacant position of Aberdeen’s manager.

Although I have little experience in football management, I believe I am well qualified for the job, due to my varied playing career and my vast experience with Football Manager on the PC. As a player, I have played in most positions, though mostly as a striker. I include my Football Manager experience in my CV. For four years, I coached at Cults Academy for their “Mini World Cup”, and won it three times, due to my fluid passing game.

As a lifelong Aberdeen fan, I could enter the job with the background knowledge that is essential to Aberdeen Football Club. I have the benefit of seeing things from the fans’ point of view during the Calderwood era, and I would avoid making the same tactical errors that held the team back during his time at the club. I would like to develop the side organically, rather than immediately introducing wholesale changes.

Despite the possibility of a number of first team players leaving, I feel that Aberdeen have a number of stars in the making coming through. I would like to construct  a fluent passing side with more emphasis on technique and teamwork, which I feel has been missing for the past few years. I would, however, make sure to focus on what I feel is the most important aspect of Aberdeen Football Club, raw effort and character.

Having been to most of the matches at Pittodrie this season, and several of the away matches, I have scouted most of Aberdeen’s SPL opposition, and am relishing the challenge. On top of this, I have a contact at Fulham Football Club, and there is a possibility that I could use this to loan in players from the Premiership. With the success Aberdeen have had down this avenue in the past few years, this is an option I am keen to give the club.

I have enclosed my CV for your perusal, with all my impressive Football Manager accolades.

Thank you for your time.

Yours faithfully,

Jonathon Milne

…I didn’t get a reply.

A New Beginning? Or the Beginning of the End?

But the one name that kept being brought up in relation to the position was that of the Motherwell manager, a Dons legend: Mark McGhee. And sure enough, one month after Jimmy Calderwood was removed from office, Mark McGhee was installed in his place. Many sections of the Aberdeen fans hailed this as a new beginning for the club, now that this hero had returned home. Unfortunately, as Newcastle United found out with Alan Shearer, being a “hero” doesn’t make you a good manager.

Jumping a little here. A few weeks ago, Mark McGhee said the following…

“Go and look me up on Wikipedia. I’ve got a track record. I know how to manage a football team.”

Well, Mr McGhee, I have done just that!

1991-1994 – Reading – He achieved promotion. He signed a long-term contract, but walked out soon after to join Leicester. How very loyal!

1994-1995 – Leicester City – He was relegated in his first season. The club were set to fight for promotion, but he walked out again to join Wolves. His unflinching loyalty shown again there!

1995-1998 – Wolverhampton Wanderers – Despite the club’s hopes of promotion, his first season saw him finish 20th, three points away from relegation. The next two seasons saw Wolves languish in mid-table obscurity, despite being tipped for playoff spots. McGhee was sacked.

2000-2003 – Millwall – He won Division Two in his first season, and led the club to the Division One playoffs the following campaign, but lost. The next season saw Millwall finish 9th, and McGhee left two months into the 02/03 season.

2003-2006 – Brighton & Hove Albion – Won the playoffs to gain promotion to the Championship in his first season. He kept them there for a season, before being relegated in the 05/06 season. He was sacked.

2007-2009 – Motherwell – Took them from relegation battlers to 3rd place in his first season. The following season they came 7th.

And then he became our manager…

So, yes, Mr McGhee, it seems you do know how to manage a football team. Briefly.

Now, to cut a long story short. McGhee’s managerial record with Aberdeen is the second worse in the club’s history. 62 games – 17 wins, 13 draws, 32 losses. Watching an Aberdeen match has become akin to sado-masochism, only without the promise of cathartic release at the end. The clue should have come in his first competitive matches when all of Jimmy Calderwood’s hard work getting Aberdeen into Europe was undone with an 8-1 aggregate destruction at the hands of Sigma Olomouc.

Where McGhee sparked interest and hope from the Aberdeen fans was in the transfer market, where he was much more active than his predecessor. Unfortunately, with hindsight, many of those signings now appear as misguided and terrible as Ashley Cole’s pay as you go. I’d give examples, but I don’t want to keep you reading all day. I’m sure you have things to do. Out of fourteen players McGhee has brought to Pittodrie, arguably two – Paul Hartley and Scott Vernon – have worked out.

Oh Ricky, where art thou?

I will use one piece of business to highlight McGhee’s clear lack of a clue. The system he plays on the pitch clearly relies on the use of fullbacks. Why then, on God’s green earth, did he loan out his ONLY fullback, Ricky Foster, in exchange for a crocked striker, Andrius Velicka? Especially when he already has six forwards at the club! Foster, of course has recently been enjoying the Champions League, while Velicka has been enjoying a view of the ceiling from the treatment table.

Tactically, McGhee is hopelessly at sea, reminiscent of Robert Maxwell. There’s little wonder that first team stars Mark Kerr and Gary McDonald were so keen to leave for Greece and Hamilton respectively. Hamilton are the only team propping Aberdeen up from the bottom of the table, yet were a better prospect. And for any player to move to Greece – a country in financial and social meltdown – clearly something’s going wrong with life at Pittodrie. Yet, according to McGhee, it is because of the players that the club is in this state. Every loss is followed by a tirade, where all the blame is directed towards the player. And the players are now hitting back. See what Sone Aluko recently said…

“I’m getting used to what the manager says about me every Sunday. If the team isn’t winning or creating, I’m always the one people say hasn’t performed well enough.”

Aluko is one of the several AFC “stars” whose contracts are up for renewal this season. Chris Maguire, Zander Diamond and Jamie Langfield are also. And yet, with the way McGhee clearly treats the players, it looks more than certain that these men will be following the likes of Kerr and McDonald out of Pittodrie. McGhee has also become known for holding grudges against his players. At the start of the season, he tried to loan out promising striker Michael Paton to Dundee. Since Paton was one of the team’s better players last season, he declined the move, saying he wanted to fight for his place at the Dons. McGhee has now refused to play him as punishment. The hair-drier treatment is best done by McGhee’s mentor and former manager, Sir Alex Ferguson. But McGhee’s not Fergie. He’s not even a poor man’s Fergie.

Willie Miller and Stewart Milne

But, finally, let me point out, I fully believe that a manager can only do so much. As can the players. A large portion of the blame, in my opinion, rests with the Statler and Waldorf of Aberdeen, Chairman Stewart Milne and Director of Football Willie Miller.

The Real Muppets
The Real Muppets

These two men were the ones who sacked Jimmy Calderwood and installed Mark McGhee. They said the decision was made to help the club grow, and that McGhee would issue in a new age for Aberdeen. But what they didn’t do was give McGhee money to bring this new age around. McGhee was expected, as was Jimmy for the most part of his tenure, to create a successful team with little to no funding. It has got to the stage that Aberdeen have not brought in decent replacements for players that were sold up to four or five years ago. Players like Russell Anderson, Michael Hart, Chris Clark and Barry Nicholson were never successfully replaced with players of a similar, let alone better, quality. The only exception to my mind is the signing of Paul Hartley, who, despite his age, has been a decent replacement for Scott Severin.

Aberdeen have now lost the past six games in a row. On the 9th of November, three days after the humiliating 9-0 loss to Celtic, the Dons faced Inverness Caledonian Thistle, with McGhee’s job reportedly on the line. Aberdeen lost, and yet the board came out and backed their manager. Since then the Dons have slumped to defeats against Rangers, St Johnstone and Kilmarnock. Now only a goal difference of two separates Aberdeen from the bottom of the SPL and yet the board remain resolute in their backing of McGhee. If this is still the case in January, then they must show their backing by giving him funds to buy the players he needs to drag his team back up the table.

The players Aberdeen currently have aren’t of sufficient quality to promise safety. And if relegated, they might not even be good enough to gain automatic promotion the following year. It isn’t too far fetched for Aberdeen to become the next Partick Thistle, or even Livingston, and stay down.

It devastates me to write the next, and final, sentence. If something doesn’t change soon, then I predict D.O.N.S. really will stand for Division One Next Season.

Jonnie Milne

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1 Comment

Filed under Football, Soccer

One response to “Dons: Division One Next Season?

  1. Josh Tindell

    Well put Jonnie, spot on.

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