‘Impossible’ for provincial team to win a Euro trophy
SOMEHOW the hours leading up to Celtic’s Champions League clash with Barcelona last night seemed the most prescient moment to hear the reflections of Scotland’s most successful captain in European competition.
After all, Willie Miller skippered Aberdeen to Cup Winners Cup and Super Cup success in an era when they could defeat Real Madrid in a major final and Dundee United could go to the Nou Camp and win.
Yesterday, the man who, earlier this year, was sacked for a second time by the club he served with such distinction, was back at Pittodrie to be reunited with the trophy he has been associated with ever since a rain-soaked night in Sweden.
Incredibly for anyone over the age of 40, that will be 30 years ago next May, hence yesterday’s launch of BBC Scotland’s Sportsound presenter and lifelong Dons supporter, Richard Gordon’s book reflecting the Glory In Gothenburg.
The author would do well to fill his regular column in the Aberdeen matchday programme with tales of the club’s exploits in continental competition in more recent times, as Miller knows only too well.
As manager in the early 1990s, he was in charge for their embarrassing defeat by Latvian unknowns Skonto Riga and was back as a director two years ago when the Dons suffered a record aggregate defeat at the hands of Sigma Olomouc. That latter spell also included the only real highlight with progression to the last 32 of the Uefa Cup when Miller appointee Jimmy Calderwood was manager, a run that was only halted by defeat against Bayern Munich.
It was also the best run by any Scottish side outwith the Old Firm for years, while this season the country’s representatives, St Johnstone, Hearts, Motherwell and Dundee United all exited dispiritingly early.
That is a pattern which has become all too common and one Miller doesn’t see changing any time soon, even if Aberdeen’s recent revival under Craig Brown is rewarded with a Europa League place next season.
He said: “I think when you look at where Real Madrid are in the modern era it just adds lustre to what we achieved back then, but these things just don’t happen anymore.
“Real Madrid have just got stronger and stronger down the years to the point where it’s almost impossible for a provincial club like Aberdeen to win a European tournament.
“We won in Gothenburg and Dundee United went to the Nou Camp and beat Barcelona back in the ’80s and really it’s unthinkable that it could happen again given the way the game has moved on.
“What has been a disappointing aspect of Scottish football is that the teams outwith the Old Firm have struggled to stay in European football beyond the end of July let alone making an impact.
“Nowadays I think just getting to the group stages of the Europa League would be a fabulous achievement for any of the other Scottish clubs but we have to improve quite a bit before we would even suggest that was a possibility.”
At least Miller can feel he has made a contribution to improving the quality of Aberdeen’s play on the home front after his restructuring of the youth academy during his recent eight-year stint at Pittodrie.
The emergence of talented youngsters like Ryan Jack and Ryan Fraser has contributed to an unbeaten run of 11 games and a genuine optimism that the club is on an upward trajectory again.
That is what really matters as far as Miller’s fellow Gothenburg Great Doug Rougvie is concerned and, if the current generation possesses even half the passion for playing that the still fearsome-looking former defender does, then that promise will be fulfilled.
Big Doug admits to giving up the 20-yard slide tackles but the 56-year-old still plays five-a-sides for Linksfield Galaxy and has no intention of giving that up any time soon. Someone who did give up his studies after Sir Alex Ferguson asked him if he wanted to be “a fitba player or a f****** engineer” is now firmly the latter, working as an instrument designer in the oil and gas industry. He admits trips to Pittodrie made for painful viewing until relatively recently, but he is happy now to be, if you can believe it, an anonymous face in the crowd, cheering the current team alongside all the other supporters.
He said: “Our history is something to be proud of but it’s so long ago that I don’t buy the theory it’s a millstone round the necks of the current generation.
“I come to the games at Pittodrie now and nobody recognises me or comes near me, which I think is great because it’s what’s happening now that’s important for Aberdeen Football Club. We seem to have turned the corner and there is a real chance that they could end this 30th anniversary season by getting the club back into European football. How great would that be?”
l Glory In Gothenburg by Richard Gordon, Black and White Publishing, £14.99
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