Mini Blether – Changing of the Guard in the North East

In a previous article the question of Aberdeen’s form and the ultimate sell by date of Derek McInnes was discussed (Mini Blether – Northern Lights, a bulb change needed?). This was written over a year before the ultimate March 2021 parting of way between Aberdeen and their long serving manager.

Many of the issues raised back then were cited as being behind the change, a slump in form, a limited tactical approach, comfort zone players and a general lack of spark as Aberdeen seemed to sleepwalk their way to another 4th placed finish. Too good to go down or struggle, but lacking any real direction in terms of moving forward. The converse is also true however, prior to McInnes a 7 or 8 year period of consistent top 4 finishes was the stuff of dreams – a squad exists that can and will achieve this so what more could realistically be asked. But nonetheless, change has come.

But where now? Recent odds and gossip columns have suggested a wide variety of names. Many out of work managers with experience in Scotland – for example Stephen Robinson or Neil Lennon have been suggested, as well as some in current employment such as Jim Goodwin. Then there are the left field names, Sven or Maresca and of course Stephen Glass who has been suggested in a variety of roles.

Many of the names listed seem to be just that, just names of managers who could come in and do a job. Potentially improve things but then also potentially upset the apple cart and a team very much built in McInnes’s image and style and not perform so well.

One has to wonder what the Aberdeen board desire therefore. Improvements on 4th place and some more silverware are presumably high on the list, as well as a more inventive or attractive brand of football perhaps. What must surely also be on the radar in these ever more austere times is the ability to develop and sell players and construct a financial model from which the club can build on.

Taking the above therefore, a short term fix of an unemployed manager or simply another decent manager is unlikely to be able to fulfill all of these aims. In terms of Scottish football, no club (if we exclude the Old Firm) has demonstrated such a consistency of relative success as Aberdeen in recent years. As such it is difficult to see where any manager with current or recent experience in Scotland would fit in terms of being able to demonstrate that they could take Aberdeen to the next level. If we look at cups as an example and non old firm victories – so St Johnstone have won 2 trophies since Aberdeen last won the League Cup, but under different managers and with fluctuating league positions and no year on year European football. Inverness have tasted glory, as have Hibs but then faced relegation as well. If we look for more solid league form, Motherwell have had strong seasons, again under different managers but then have been inconsistent over the longer term. Hibs and Hearts again have performed strongly some years but then have both been relegated in that time as well. So there doesn’t seem to be an obvious fit, or an obvious choice from the Scottish game who can definitely improve things.

Young and up and coming managers within the Scottish system may have potential, but are Aberdeen really looking for potential? Will potential guarantee progression? Managers like Caldwell and Elvis may be interested, but both have varying track records and there would be an element of gamble in any appointment.

Taking all this in to account, the market for a manager with recent experience of Scottish football and demonstrable pedigree in terms of progression appears to be relatively narrow.

Do Aberdeen go down a more innovative route therefore, perhaps follow the recent trend of hiring German tacticians from the youth system on the continent? Successful appointments in England have brought such moves into focus – but there are down sides to this approach also (David Wagner’s first couple of seasons at Huddersfield v Jan Siewert’s unsuccessful stint at the club following the cessation of Wagner’s own purple patch). Hearts after all tried this with Stendel and ended up relegated (disputed due to Covid of course) so it is not a fail safe option and given the profile and finance of Scottish football compared to the English Championship this would rely on a detailed scouting approach and indeed a slice of luck in terms of unearthing an unknown diamond.

Do Aberdeen follow Rangers in a young, but big name with a strong contact list of coaches? It has worked so far for Rangers and Gerrard, but then the budget and starting point was arguably higher and again there is an element of risk and unknown to that approach. Also, what options are there who would be attracted by a club and project the size of Aberdeen? Progressing from 4th place consistency is arguably less appealing than restoring Rangers at the top.

One interesting rumour has been the appointing of Stephen Glass as Director of Football. Currently working in America, the former player is part of an existing relationship between Atlanta and Aberdeen. Many have put 2+2 together and seen this as a viable option as manager or otherwise. Similar risks are apparent as outlined above though and he would likely fall under the same category as other unproven young managers. However, as a Director of Football and a working knowledge of the American system, there is a potentially fruitful avenue to pursue there. Effectively being in charge of recruitment, possibly tapping into an otherwise seldom used American Market while allowing a coach to work on the tactics and games. This would certainly fulfil the aims of developing players for sale if it could be successfully operated.

Hearts tried the Director of Football approach with Levein previously and did not find success and it is otherwise a relatively rare concept within the Scottish game. But there is some potential there for Aberdeen with a wholesale restructuring, it does after all work well in Europe and has served as an excellent model for clubs like Sevilla – buy low, sell high, consistent finishes behind the top 2 and a few trophies thrown in. So why not for Aberdeen?

It is as yet unclear what route Aberdeen will go down. At present it is hard to see what change would bring other than a new face. There doesn’t seem to be a ready made option to push on from the stale consistency and while all options come with risks, what are fans and the board realistically hoping for? One wonders if this is time for real change at the club and a completely new approach.

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