Former Aberdeen manager and current non-executive director Craig Brown once remarked that it was hard to find a fault in Ryan Jack’s game, and that if he was to leave the club, he would expect it to be to a top four or five side in the English Premier League.
Brown is not the first admirer of the twenty-three year old midfielder. Italian football agent Ivan Reggiani claimed that Serie A teams AS Roma and Napoli were monitoring the player’s progress and Everton gaffer Roberto Martinez is also widely thought to have been keeping a close eye on Jack in recent seasons.
There is no doubt that Ryan Jack is an elegant footballer. The attributes that have provoked curious glances of bigger clubs are obvious. Since breaking into the Aberdeen team five years ago, Jack has displayed immense composure and positional sense. Initially deployed at right back, he has gone on to show he is capable of dictating football matches with an acute passing ability, exquisite close control and intelligence that has superseded any other player to come through the ranks at Pittodrie in recent years.
Jack’s excellent performances and consistency against Scottish Premiership and European opposition have been evident, however, some have suggested the midfielder has not yet grown into a player confident of himself in the big games.
Many Aberdeen supporters believe Jack has allowed himself to be bullied into quiet submission in games against Celtic by midfield counterpart Scott Brown. Therefore, it may comes as a surprise that Derek McInnes has recently awarded the local Aberdonian with the captaincy following the retirement of Russell Anderson.
Ryan seems to be fairly reserved on the football pitch, quietly going about his own business and allowing his teammates to do the same. You might even say he doesn’t have the mean streak, the nastiness quite characterised by the likes of Scott Brown to be an effective captain.
Critics would say that Jack at twenty three is too young, not vocal enough and perhaps not yet ready to captain Aberdeen Football Club.
The question, then, is why has McInnes put his faith in Ryan Jack?
The answer is because captains aren’t always the finished product. Captains are individuals who display qualities of leadership that can be nurtured into fulfilled potential. Leaders in any sphere are individuals that are aware of their own weaknesses but strive to improve beyond those weaknesses. It is also a myth that the best captains are those who can shout the loudest.
You only need to glance at his predecessor. Russell Anderson is adored by Aberdeen fans for two stints at Pittodrie where he played with his heart on his sleeve. Every tackle, every headed goal and every spirited performance was completed with a sense of privilege and honour in representing Aberdeen Football Club.
Russell was similar to Ryan in the sense that he wasn’t overly vocal. However, he was aware of his leadership and organisation responsibilities as captain. He understood that it was his duty to motivate his teammates to turn the tide in matches that weren’t going their way.
Ryan Jack perhaps isn’t the most vocal personality but he has shown a resilience in his career to get to where he is today. Having broken his leg twice amongst various other injuries, he knows what it is to face adversity and return an improved player. For a player of his age, he has vast experience having amassed over 170 appearances for Aberdeen, including a League Cup victory, and being capped for Scotland at under 16, 17, 19 and 21 level.
Additionally what separates Jack from Anderson, is that he has the natural ability as a ball-playing midfielder to change the flow of a football match. An awareness of when to concentrate on ball retention, coupled with the ability to break up play and construct an attack, Jack is a modern midfielder.
Often praised for his astuteness in dictating the tempo of a football match, Jack has the footballing potential to mark out a different path of what it means to captain a football side.
Jack showed last season the extent of his resilience in the face of defeat when he bundled the ball over the line in the last minute of a home league match against Dundee.
The Dons were trailing 3-2, when Jack emerged in the box to meet a Shay Logan cross and rescue a point for the home side. The midfielder’s celebration epitomised what a leader should be, an individual with a refusal to give up on the team’s cause until a breakthrough is achieved.
Derek McInnes cited that the reason Jack was given the captaincy was down to his development, stating: “We want to see him take that responsibility.”
It is now Jack’s duty to grab games by the proverbial scruff of the neck and combine football intelligence with physical aggression and perhaps a few more goals. If he can do this, he will improve as a footballer and as a leader.
If he can do this, he will be one of Aberdeen’s finest recent captains.
Written by Jack Thomson