At HALF-TIME at Pittodrie the weekend before last, with his team losing to Celtic, Aberdeen manager Derek McInnes plucked a book from the shelf called Fitba Management the Fergie Way. Then he opened it up at the chapter headed: “Yooz are all f****n’ idiots.”
The latter, you’ll remember, was Sir Alex Ferguson’s reprimand to a roomful of journalists after a couple of them had dared to question the wisdom of one of his Manchester United signings – £28.1 million worth of strolling midfield languidity called Juan Sebastian Veron.
This book doesn’t actually exist, although you feel it should, but McInnes’ pep-talk to his players was classic Fergie. He told them that up in the press box the match reports were already being written. Doubtless they would contain lots of tediously familiar stuff about how the Dons were big-game bottlers who, faced with the challenge of the champions, had flopped yet again. Now, did the players want to go back out there and force the hacks to re-write their stories?
The rest is recent history. The Dons beat Celtic, beat Hamilton Accies and after 45 minutes at Tynecastle on Saturday must have had a few of the journos polishing their intros over the half-time pies, only this time in a good way. A very good way.
This was the performance of the season, the Dons’ best and better than anyone else’s best. The season is still young but, if this were my team, I’d have a smile as wide as Union Street spread across my face. I’d have a swagger that an Aberdonian could only replicate by finding a £20 note on the shiny floor of the city’s blingiest shopping mall. And I’d be checking the fixtures to see who the league leaders are playing next.
After tomorrow’s League Cup tie at Hibernian, the Dons stay north for a month: home matches against St Johnstone and Motherwell and trips to Ross County and Inverness Caley Thistle, the latter this Saturday. Then it’s Celtic again, down in Glasgow. McInnes won’t be wanting to get ahead of himself; one game at a time and all that. But if that was the team-talk of the season just there, then he’s probably going to have to top it.
He just might, and his vibrant side just might push Celtic all the way this time. They were pretty decent last season but now they look the real deal: tough as boat hulls at the back, as slippery as fish up front. That old, mean-as-hell double-act Willie Miller and Alex McLeish must be impressed with the stout work of Ash Taylor and Paul Quinn. Graeme Shinnie always looked like he’d be a great addition and so he’s proving. Nifty anyway, Peter Pawlett must feel positively jet-propelled when the fans sing that song about him.
It was fascinating to listen McInnes talking on Sunday about his strikers, and revealing the deliberations that went into him picking David Goodwillie ahead of Adam Rooney. This told you about the thoroughness of the manager; also the options now at his disposal. Maybe Rooney becoming a dad for the first time just before the game – little Ezra is “fit, healthy and ginger,” he reports – had some bearing on the manager’s decision, but you can bet Rooney will be desperate to return to the starting line-up, not least because Goodwillie reminded us of the cocky talent of a few years ago. He scored two goals, was a pest to the Hearts defence and wound up the home crowd – the kind of swagger that Mark McGhee used to save for his trips to Glasgow.
The Don who impressed me most, though – even more than Niall McGinn with all his cool running – was Ryan Jack. The young skipper is a model of quiet intent. Everything goes through him, every one of the lightning attacks starts with him.
There’s an interesting debate right now about possession of the football. The most recent Uefa technical review noted how the possessive princes of Barcelona had switched to swift transitions, with study contributor Sir Alex scolding those teams who, possibly in their attempts to ape Barca’s old tiki-taka, passed the ball around endlessly in their own half. “Pedantic possession,” he called it.
Well, there’s nothing pedantic about this Aberdeen. They’re not Barcelona either but Jack, on Sunday’s evidence, never wastes a ball. He reminds me a bit of John McGovern, the unflashy cog at the heart of Brian Clough’s Nottingham Forest. McGovern had some great battles with the far more showy and demonstrative Graeme Souness of Liverpool, winning more than a few of them.
It will be fascinating to see Jack come up against Scott Brown when Aberdeen go to Celtic Park at the end of October. But let’s not get ahead of ourselves. One game at a time.
A step too far for the Madden-ing crowd
Referees have been much criticised recently but Robbie Neilson made a point of praising Bobby Madden after the Aberdeen game. A good ref with a personality, said the Hearts manager.
We saw evidence of the personality during the match. The punctilious types in the home stands were unconvinced that Madden was pacing out the requisite ten metres for free-kicks so they decided to help him. “One, two, three… ” they counted and, even when he reached ten, some still weren’t satisfied so they harrumphed loudly. Fed up of this, the next free-kick saw Madden stop dead at five for a few seconds before resuming his march. This threw a fair few thousand, who forgot which number came next.
Tradition won’t pay the bill at Tony Macaroni
If YOU haven’t followed Scottish football for a while and happened across The Scotsman yesterday you’ll have seen that Hibernian were playing at the Tony Macaroni Arena while the report underneath had Rangers turning out at the Cheaper Insurance Direct Arena. Traditionalists will despair but tradition doesn’t pay the bills or buy new training kit. Dumbarton are further consigning one of the most beautifully ugly names in football to the past although those of us who visited Boghead are glad we did and won’t ever forget it. Livingston don’t have the same heritage so might as well call their ground after the pasta joint on one of the 54 orbiting roundabouts, especially if Tony is going to make it worth their while.
“Aidan Smith reports from the Tony Macaroni Arena” will definitely be one for the scrapbook. Veteran scribe Roger Baillie has just got there before me and while he’s reported from the game’s greatest citadels, it’s obvious that Scottish football can still throw up perverse new pleasures.