Forget the Old Firm sagas that run and run despite nothing changing all that much, the big story of the last year in Scottish football has been the remarkable achievements of Derek McInnes in reviving Aberdeen. For a long time considered the “sleeping giants” of the game, last season showed that Aberdeen were once again a force to be reckoned with and their showings in Europe over the summer proved that they are beginning to look a cut above the rest of their fellow clubs (outside of the big two) and could grow even further.
It had been a torrid time for Aberdeen up until last year. A series of bottom-six finishes had seen the club go from one of the most well-respected in Scottish football to just another side scrapping for survival in the top flight. There was a brief spell around 2008 where things began to look up for the Dons, with their memorable UEFA Cup exploits against Bayern Munich still being one of their finest achievements in recent decades, but considering that Aberdeen were the last team to truly threaten the Old Firm stranglehold on the game in Scotland along with their New Firm rivals Dundee United, it wasn’t the same at all.
The potential at Aberdeen was clear to see. They have one of the biggest and most loyal fanbases in not just Scotland, but the UK, and an owner with not only money to invest but a real passion for his club. All they needed was the right man at the helm to turn this potential into reality. With the signing of Derek McInnes, Aberdeen found their man.
Derek McInnes swept in and was a breath of fresh air at Pittodrie. He brought in some new players to the club such as Barry Robson and Calvin Zola that were indicative of a more attacking style of football, one that saw Aberdeen score more goals last year than in six years. But perhaps more importantly, they kept themselves tight at the back avoiding counter-attacks with veteran Russell Anderson anchoring one of the best defences in the country. Aberdeen at last had a team that worked all over the pitch – and that success was rewarded.
After finishing eighth in 2012-13, finishing third last year was a remarkable achievement for the Dons; even if many fans came away from the final game against Motherwell feeling aggrieved that they could have went one better had it not been for a questionable refereeing decision leading to Well’s winner.
Even better was their first cup success in 20 years as they eventually overcame a dogged Inverness Caley Thistle side in a penalty shoot-out in March’s League Cup final at Celtic Park. The sea of red in the stadium that day, and the fans’ delighted chanting of “Peter Pawlett Baby” surely captured the enthusiasm of the Aberdeen support and their joy that their efforts in backing their club for so long through dark times had been worth it.
Derek McInnes rightfully won PFA Scotland’s Manager of the Year award last year and the Aberdeen revival has continued on to this season. What’s impressive about McInnes is that he’s managed to work wonders with his side without spending over budget – in fact he hasn’t spent a penny on bringing players in. In the modern age of football, that in itself is impressive.
Aberdeen may not have reached the Europa League group stages this year, which would have been a massive achievement given that they started in Round One of the competition’s qualifiers, but they certainly proved their mettle against some good sides. After trouncing Latvian minnows Daugava Riga, Aberdeen dispatched Groningen of Holland who won the Eredivisie’s play-offs for the Europa League before being beaten by Real Sociedad, who competed in last year’s Champions League. These were very good teams that Aberdeen came up against, and they’ve shown that they can compete with them. Maybe next year, if Aberdeen and Scotland’s UEFA coefficients rise, they can have a slightly easier passage and make it through to the group stage.
Aberdeen have been widely tipped for second place in this year’s Premiership, and some even speculated that they could challenge Celtic for the title, given their poor performances against Legia Warsaw and their weakened squad. The Dons’ league season hasn’t really kicked off as well as they’d have hoped, and I think that their performances have shown how far they have to go before they are truly out-and-out contenders for the league. Their strikers haven’t really hit form yet but I’m sure that McInnes will sort his side out and they’ll rise through the table again.
It’s not an easy road to the summit of the game, but Derek McInnes has already done a fantastic job at steering Aberdeen on the right path. It’s a match made in heaven and both parties seem to think so highly of each other that they’ll allow each other time to grow and build. And I believe that if McInnes and Aberdeen can do that, then Aberdeen can have another Golden age.