Aberdeen are a funny old club. From the heady heights of European success in the 1980’s to the stagnation and fall from grace in the 1990’s and 2000’s. Still a huge club in Scottish terms, not just in a one club city but a one club region in top level terms.
Recent results however have led to some disenchantment from fans – booing the side off 2 games running, following a defeat to Motherwell (22 January 2020) and 0-0 draw with St Mirren (26 January 2020).
This really highlights the questions of what the expectations are at Aberdeen and if a change is now needed to realise these goals.
It would be accepted by most that the glory days of the 1980’s have long since passed and are never likely to return. Nor will Aberdeen realistically be able to compete with the financial muscle of the Old Firm – new American based investment aside.
So where does the club see itself and where do they go now?
Manager Derek McInnes took over the side in 2013 and since then has led the club to a period of relative consistency at the upper end of the Scottish League. Coupled with a cup win, numerous cup final and semi final appearances and European expeditions, on the face of it this has been a period of relative success compared to the barren years filled with relegation fights and infrequent successes.
There is a feeling that the club has stagnated somewhat recently, with tactics and form calling into question whether a change might be needed. A reliance on “big man up top” with fast or creative wingers supporting and tough, athletic midfielders in behind has been the staple of the side during Mcinnes’s time.
These tactics are wholly competitive and have brought success. They aren’t necessarily glamourous, but they are effective. With strikers like Adam Rooney and Sam Cosgrove leading the line in successive seasons, it is clear that a big strong penalty box striker is the continual focal point – served by a succession of fast or creative wingers like Johnny Hayes, Niall McGinn or now Matty Kennedy. More creative players like Ryan Christie or James Maddison have come in on loan to lend a variance, but in simple terms the front line has remained to type over the years.
This approach, when done well and with the players Aberdeen have had has been enough to win most games, be competitive and establish themselves as a top club side in Scotland. In doing all of this, they have also managed to avoid being sucked into what is a very cyclical nature of Scottish football – such is the reliance on free transfers and a good manager, that clubs can fluctuate from good to bad in a couple of years, for example Hibs, Hearts and Dundee Untied have all gone from top half to relegation in the same time McInnes has been in charge.
So the establishment of Aberdeen as a top side, the consistency and continuation of a winning formula is surely success isn’t it?
Or, having established this base, should the club now be looking to evolve from this and progress to a “better brand” of football, win more trophies or challenge for the league?
The fact the team is being booed off the field, as well as being criticised for turgid, dry performances indicates than a not insignificant portion of the fan base is feeling this way.
Realistically though, where can Aberdeen go?
Rangers and Celtic have the financial muscle to ensure that a 2 horse title race is now well and truly re-established. While Aberdeen have shown their potential to remain competitive, the fact remains that a lack of squad depth and ability to utilise the transfer market to really strengthen as opposed to simply replace lost talent (one in, one out) means that a consistent challenge for the title is very unlikely.
Cups runs are always based on a degree of luck, particularly with regard to the luck of the draw in the early rounds. More often than not, Aberdeen have been there or thereabouts at the business end, this represents an opportunity for success. So a progression towards an(other) cup win is a possibility. Albeit detractors would argue that the brand of football hasn’t been successful at defeating the likes of Celtic (regular final opponents) in previous finals – so again luck may be needed in this regard.
So, do Aberdeen look to build upon the stable base which has been built by McInnes. Competitive football, sure to win the majority of games, finish top half, get far in cups and possibly win these – but not the most eye catching, an arguable stagnation at this level and perceived acceptance of this level as “good enough”?
Or do they twist, bring in someone new, risk that they can take the base, maintain and build upon with no drop off in performance. Take a squad built by McInnes, built to adhere to his tactical plan and try to evolve? This is certainly a big ask for anyone and not without significant risks.
It’s certainly a dilemma for the powers that be in the Granite City. They can accept the reality that they are just about where they should and realistically can be, or push for something better and risk what has been built on a desire for silver, gold and glory. It remains to be seen if fan frustrations will push them in a certain direction, what is certain however is that any drastic steps are fraught with risk and danger.