Barry Robson has played for some top-class managers during his career but insists none of them could have prepared Aberdeen any better for today’s League Cup semi-final than Derek McInnes.
That’s high praise indeed from someone who has worked under the likes of Craig Levein, Alex McLeish and Gordon Strachan for club and country. That brought domestic honours with Celtic along with 17 caps for Scotland for the Inverurie-born veteran midfielder.
Now the 35-year-old has the chance to be part of his local team’s most successful season for two decades given their revival under McInnes.
Robson returns to Celtic Park for a Scottish Cup tie next weekend at a time when Aberdeen are sitting in second place in the league table.
First it’s St Johnstone at Tynecastle with the opportunity to progress to a first final in 14 years then lift a trophy for the first time since 1995.
That’s quite a turnaround for a club which finished the last four seasons in the bottom half of the league while suffering a series of embarrassing defeats in the knockout competitions.
The addition of Robson and Willo Flood last summer has been crucial but it’s this week’s loan signing of Brentford defender Shaleum Logan that emphasises McInnes’s abilities.
Reading blocked Michael Hector’s return, Ryan Jack is out of action for two months, Joe Shaughnessy is suspended today and Alan Tate failed to impress at right-back recently.
McInnes moved swiftly to solve that problem by signing Logan, which didn’t surprise Robson who has revealed that no detail has been left to chance for this crucial tie.
Robson said: “We practised penalties in training on Thursday because the manager looks at every aspect of the game in minute detail.
“He is meticulous knowing it’s the little things that can win you football matches so, yes, of course we have practised penalties – but we have practised everything.
“We have prepared for every eventuality and done everything possible to look at the opposition and to do what’s right for the game.
“I have been massively impressed with the manager. I played alongside him at Dundee United and was impressed back then with his professionalism.
“He has taken that into management. I have played for a lot of top managers but he is up there with the best of them in terms of his preparation. He is still a young manager but, just like the top guys, he looks into every aspect of the football operation.
“He has changed a lot of things here from the recruitment to the training. He’s very much a modern-day manager who leaves no stone unturned. He is enjoyable to play for but you need to work hard, that’s for sure. He is demanding every day – just like every top manager I have played for.”
Robson has yet to commit to playing on next season but he remains as enthusiastic as ever about the game having recovered from surgery earlier in the campaign.
You get the feeling that someone who scored for Celtic against Barcelona in the Champions League would get just as much pleasure from visiting some remote corner of the continent in a Europa League qualifier next season.
Right now, though, the priority is to make sure Aberdeen live up to their billing as favourites to win not only today’s match but the League Cup next month.
He added: “I missed a [League Cup] final with Celtic. I remember the surgeon saying I would be back in three weeks – eight months later I was still out. That was frustrating but I played in the [Scottish Cup] final for Dundee United and lost to Celtic.
“I also qualified for a final with United but got the chance to move to Celtic and missed out, but I got to play in the Champions League so I couldn’t complain too much. I’ve played in quite a few semis but this is a trophy I have never won so it’s something I’d love to do.”
So would the success-starved Aberdeen supporters and there will be 12,000 of them at Tynecastle, vastly outnumbering those backing the Perth club.
Robson is acutely aware of the expectation levels the team have created with average attendances at Pittodrie up by over 3,000 this season. Of course the midfielder has plenty of experience of those sort of demands
He said: “I do get a sense of the expectations up here. I’ve seen it a lot over the years and it’s something you can’t allow yourselves to get caught up in.
“There’s expectations at every club, just more at some rather than others. I had it at Celtic of course but there were also expectations at Middlesbrough with a Premiership club with a big budget trying to get out of the Championship. It was the same with Scotland.
“Of course there are expectations at Aberdeen with the fans here. As you get older you know what can go wrong but you just work harder to make sure it doesn’t and try to help the younger guys through it.
“When you start out in football you want to win things but there are countless players who go through their career earning a lot of money without winning anything.
“I’ve been lucky to win things and it gives you a taste for more.
“There is a big chance for us here but it is exactly the same for St Johnstone and the other semi-finalists.”