Alex McLeish was the last Aberdeen captain to lift the Scottish Cup at Hampden following a penalty shoot-out success against Celtic in 1990 and the Pittodrie icon believes that the current skipper should be given the opportunity to emulate him.
Ryan Jack has become a target for a section of the support following his decision to leave the club when his contract expires at the end of this month. The 25-year-old is expected to sign for boyhood heroes Rangers once he becomes a free agent and that has also displeased some hardcore fans.
Jack has recovered from the groin injury which threatened to see him miss the Hampden showpiece but, after being sidelined for a month, he came on for the second half of Sunday’s 6-0 victory over Partick Thistle. Some fans jeered the midfielder when he was introduced at Firhill but McLeish believes that manager Derek McInnes should include him in his starting line-up.
“I think the fans should lay off him,” he said. “He’s a professional, he has shown his strength as a captain. A lot of people like their own egos to be splashed across the papers but he’s a team player and a boy who will give everything for Aberdeen in this game.
“I’m sure the professionalism he has shown throughout his career at Aberdeen will shine through. I would play him, definitely. I don’t believe his mind will be straying elsewhere and I’m sure the majority of Aberdeen fans will get right behind him.
“You’ll get the occasional one who says he shouldn’t be going to Rangers and will hate him for the rest of their life because of it. But the modern-day footballer has to do what he can for his career and they certainly have all the power nowadays because of the Bosman ruling.
“Ryans has also not won many trophies, so he’ll be desperate to lift that cup. If he can leave Aberdeen on the high of winning the Scottish Cup, then it’s a memory that will live with him forever.”
McLeish pointed out that Charlie Nicholas played a significant role for Aberdeen in that 1990 final despite the fact he had already agreed to rejoin Celtic that summer.
“I don’t recall any fans saying Charlie shouldn’t play or that he’d be booed if he did,” he said. “Charlie strolled up and took his penalty with the calibre of finish that you would expect of the class act that he was.”
When McLeish led the way up the steps to collect the glittering prize that day, it was the fifth time in nine seasons that the Dons had brought it back to the north east and he finds it difficult to fathom why it has not returned there in the intervening 27 years.
“It’s hard to believe that they haven’t won the Scottish Cup since then,” he said. “The memories are fantastic because that week the Scottish Football Writers Association had announced me as their Player of the Year.
“So, when it’s 4-4 after five penalties each, [assistant-manager] Jocky Scott said: ‘Who’s taking the next one?’ When I said I would, he looked at me and asked: ‘Are you confident you’ll score?’
“I replied: ‘Not really but, as captain, I think it’s my duty and I don’t see anybody else putting their hand up.’
“Anyway, I decided I was just going to stick it where I always put my penalties – pass it hard into the goalie’s left – and, if it’s hit firmly and accurately enough, it shouldn’t matter if he goes the right way.
“But the devil on the other shoulder was saying: ‘For God’s sake, I’ve just been voted Player of the Year and this is where I get egg on my face.’
“However, I had a good run up – none of that stupid little jinks and hesitation stuff – and passed it into Packie Bonner’s top left-hand corner. ”
Brendan Rodgers, though, could become the first manager to complete the domestic treble since since McLeish did it with Rangers in 2003 and he believes that Celtic’s momentum could prove to be the difference this weekend.
“The rhythm of the team, the way they’ve been playing right up until the very last game of the league campaign, tells you they are ready for anything. It stands to reason Celtic are firm favourites, just because of their quality but it’s a cup final and the Aberdeen boys have got to play the game of their lives.”
l Alex McLeish was speaking at a William Hill event. William Hill is the proud sponsor of the Scottish Cup.