It’s slightly ironic that the year Alex Ferguson retires is the year that Aberdeen comes back to life. It was under the former Manchester United manager that Aberdeen had their best spell in its history lifting three league titles, four Scottish Cups and a Scottish League Cup, alongside the UEFA Cup Winners’ Cup and the UEFA Super Cup. But since his departure in November 1986, Aberdeen struggled to compete with the Old Firm, Celtic and Rangers for domestic honours leading to a downward spiral that almost lead to relegation from Scotland’s top league and likely administration. Despite low funds still being an issue, Aberdeen are now on the up and has built a squad capable of challenging once more. With no Rangers (relegated to the lowest division due to going into administration) and with Celtic competing on multiple fronts, could this be the season when the Dons reestablish themselves as one of Scotland’s dominant forces.
Under the guidance of former Rangers and West Brom player Derek McInnes, Aberdeen have been slowly climbing the table looking towards the future rather than back at their rather bleak past. McInnes has installed self belief back into the club, not seen since the days when Ferguson inspired his team towards an unlikely UEFA Cup Winners Cup medal by beating Real Madrid. Having only taken over from Craig Brown in April 2013 and operating under extremely tight financial reins, McInnes has been shrewd in the transfer market this summer which has helped to transform his side into challengers. Dealing in only free transfers, McInnes has secured a range of exciting young players alongside some older heads as he built out the core of his team. Nicky Weaver came in from Sheffield Wednesday to offer support and competition for Jamie Langfield whilst 21 year old Michael Hector, an exciting centre back arrived from Reading on loan to add weight to the back four next to Russell Anderson and Mark Reynolds. Up front the arrival of Calvin Zola gives McInnes further options alongside Scott Vernon, Josh Magennis and Niall McGinn. But it was in the position that McInnes made his name (midfield) that he strengthened the most after realizing it was a problem area last season. In came experienced duo Willo Flood and Barry Robson as well as former Rangers winger Gregg Wylde. All three have added an extra dimension to Aberdeen’s play and have been the driving force behind most of Aberdeen’s good play this season.
Despite a poor start, which saw Aberdeen lose their first two league matches to Celtic and Hearts respectively, Aberdeen have now found a second gear and pulled together a run of results that has now lifted them to fourth place in the Scottish Premiership. Whilst the new boys have helped the cause, it’s some of the players that have been at the club for a while that are now starting to shine. Stellar performances from the likes of Peter Pawlett and Jonny Hayes as well as the emergence of talented youngsters like Ryan Jack, Joe Shaughnessy, Clark Robertson and Cameron Smith that has been the most pleasing for McInnes. Whilst the younger players have been playing for a few seasons now, this season more than ever they are starting to look like established stars for the future. Proof of this came against Falkirk in the league cup last Wednesday where Shaughnessy and Smith both scored and Jack was in the running for man of the match before Scott Vernon stole the show with a second half hat trick.
McInnes will be hoping that they can continue to develop and flourish under his leadership and help Aberdeen to climb further up the table. With only eight games played in the season so far, there are still plenty of points to play for McInnes and his team. With Rangers tearing up League One on route to a return to the Premiership in two seasons, Aberdeen fans know that it’s now or never for their team to stick their foot in the door and become a dominant force in Scottish football once more.