DEREK McInnes insists success in his new job as Aberdeen manager depends on everyone connected to the club living up to their glorious past rather than being intimidated by it.
McInnes and assistant Tony Docherty were unveiled today, although strangely they will not wrest full control from Craig Brown until Monday week, after the SPL splits in half.
It is a measure of how far the most successful Scottish side of the 1980s has slipped that the veteran manager would go into retirement with a sense of achievement if he departs with the Dons in the top six.
After all, it would be the first time Aberdeen managed even that modest feat in four years, while it is now 18 years since silverware was secured and you have to go back to 2000 for a last appearance in a national final.
Underachievement seems endemic at Pittodrie despite resources that should have guaranteed so much more and McInnes admits to exploiting their weaknesses during his time in charge of St Johnstone.
The Perth club won three and lost just once in five visits to the venue during that spell, largely because of the perception that Aberdeen were living in the past while McInnes is only interested in the future.
He said: “We always felt at St Johnstone if we could get on top we could win the game. I used to say to my players, ‘play the game, not the name’. Aberdeen is respected as a club because of tradition and the support but we need to make sure teams come up here with a bit of fear and make them realise they are up against a team with a bit of an edge to them now.
“It’s easy to just say the players are underachieving but that would be wrong. Aberdeen can improve on and off the pitch and it’s important we all have a good work ethic. We need to work harder than any club. The demand of the support is part the reason why I am here – I want the same as them.
“They crave a team at the top end of the league which is constantly competing for silverware and getting into Europe. I want to reach every one of those targets and it is going to take a collective effort to do it. It’s not just about putting a manager in place, a good chairman, a great support or a fancy stadium. You need all of those things pulling together.
“We have to all work equally as hard but the players and myself will bear the main responsibility of getting the club back to where it should be. It would be wrong to just point the finger at this group of players though. It may have been with Aberdeen teams in the past but this group need every encouragement to maximise what they want from the game.”
Of course McInnes accepts it is a case of mutual redemption for the club and himself after being dismissed by Bristol City just over a year after being appointed as manager of the Championship club. He initially saved them from the ignominy of relegation but departed after a record run of defeats this season. However, the job he did at St Johnstone to earn that chance was impressive, steering the club to promotion, winning the Challenge Cup then getting them established in the SPL.
McInnes also took them to three national semi-finals but now starts work with the luxury of a fortnight to assess the magnitude of the job ahead while hoping to inherit a team in the top six on Monday week.
Brown will need wins at home to Hearts this Saturday and at Tannadice the following week to stand a chance of delivering in what is an unusual transition of power to say the least.
Chairman Stewart Milne made it clear that decision had nothing to do with sentimentality towards the 72-year-old at the end of a long and distinguished career. McInnes insists he has plenty to occupy himself with in the meantime.
He added: “I’ll use the time wisely. It’s an opportunity for us to come in and assess the players we are going to work with, the ones in and out of contract, and we can make judgment calls for next season. I will liaise with people behind the scenes, look at the video analysis and go to reserve and youth games. I can look at the infrastructure so that it will be more seamless when I do come in.
“I won’t have any contact with the players until after the Dundee United game and I am looking forward to it. For me, it’s the right way to do it. It would have been wrong to come in at the end of the season, it’s all about making sure the players finish the season strongly and get into position for the first day of the next campaign.
“We want to finish with confidence and optimism and it will be a chance for me to ascertain who is going to be good for us going forward.”
Brown was consulted about the appointment but only when Milne had already made it clear that McInnes was the man he wanted having had a request to speak to Ross County’s Derek Adams rejected.
The multi-millionaire building tycoon is confident he has appointed the right man to return the club to something approaching the glory days but then that has to be more in hope than expectation.
After all, with the exception of Jimmy Calderwood’s time in charge, Milne’s track record on such appointments down the years leaves a lot to be desired.
What the Aberdeen chairman will be pleased about is that bringing in McInnes has had a largely positive response from supporters who have dwindled in numbers recently. The exception being those who still react poisonously to anyone with a previous connection to bitter rivals Rangers and seem fixated on McInnes’s time as a player at Ibrox in the distant past.
Milne refuses to countenance such a biased minority view and said: “Derek’s past is not an issue. What we have to ensure is we have the right guy for the job and these things end up being red herrings. Derek spent a relatively short spell of his career at Ibrox and he has no ties whatsoever with the club.
“We took Derek on because of what he is capable of doing and nothing else. Football is all about opinions and Derek acknowledges there will be a reluctance within some supporters to support him initially. But he can turn them around by getting results. The feedback from the fans by and large has been positive but we all know you never have 100 per cent when an appointment is made.
“Derek knows that and the only way he will get the bulk behind him is through what he does on the pitch but I believe the feedback we’ve had so far has been pretty positive.”