A FIRST trophy in nearly 20 years for Aberdeen, and now a place in Europe too. In his first full season at Aberdeen, Derek McInnes has made a significant impact, and rightful recognition has come his way.
Recently announced as the PFA Scotland Manager of the Year, McInnes has now also been named the best boss of the season by the Scottish Football Writers’ Association. He will receive his reward at the journalists’ annual dinner next weekend.
But while the plaudits keep coming in, McInnes has no interest in being a one-season wonder. Having recently signed an extension to his contract that ties him to Pittodrie until the middle of 2017, the 42-year-old has embarked on what he plans as a long-term transformation of the club.
The coming close season will not see anything like last summer’s radical overhaul of the playing squad, but the manager remains intent on improving the quality available to him in key positions.
“We’ve only just started something here, and I keep saying to the players this is only the start,” he said after Saturday’s 5-2 defeat by Celtic, having learned that Dundee United’s failure to beat Caley Thistle had finally guaranteed his team a place in the Europa League next season. “We have to keep working to improve and there is so much still to achieve.
“I think we can always aspire to be in the mix for trophies every year. It’s a real opportunity for us and every other club to try and get success. Now we’ve had it we want to experience that again.
“The city has been energised again, and there is a real belief in the team and in the club again, a belief which has not been there. But, by the same token, that pressure and those demands are always going to be there, probably even more so next season. But I would rather be working for a club that expects to be doing well than a club happy to just tick along.
“Most of the squad are signed up for two, three or four years. The younger ones are signed up as well, which hopefully leaves us recruiting from a position of strength – which is different from last summer.
“There is a bigger sell to get players in. We’re always restricted by the financial aspects, but we have to try and improve the team.
“It’s important, regardless of what season you’ve had, to improve your starting 11 in two or three positions and we will try to do that.
“The majority of the team are signed up and that gives us less pressure, but we still need to recruit well and try to bring good players who can help us meet the demands of next season. There are areas all over the pitch where we can maybe look to strengthen – defensive positions, the wider areas and the forward areas.
“There’s not going to be the chopping and changing of last term when 13 players moved out.
“That’s not healthy for any club to be doing that on a continual basis. If we can get a few in to help us in our quest to improve next season that would be great. Hopefully we can try to bring good players in.”
While he aspires to bring more trophies to Aberdeen, McInnes also has a realistic assessment of just how far his team can go.
Yes, they can win the League Cup, and perhaps the Scottish Cup again. Yes, they can qualify for Europe and finish runners-up, the latter being an achievement that is still within their own hands this week.
But no, as things stand, they cannot win the Premiership itself. They can get the better of Celtic over a single game, as they have shown this season in both the Scottish Cup and the league, but, as McInnes conceded after they won the League Cup, they are in a league that they cannot win.
“I still feel that way,” he said, “I don’t like saying that: it sounds defeatist. I understand how I can be criticised for saying it, but it’s a fact.
“We can fight Celtic over 90 minutes, as we have shown this season without question. Every game against them has been competitive, and we’ve managed to beat them a couple of times.
“But over a campaign I don’t think Aberdeen, or any other club, can compete with them at the minute. The difference in terms of what they can pay for players and the squad they can carry is just too much.
“It doesn’t mean to say we can’t work to improve. We will always work to improve. But it would need a really poor Celtic season to occur for anybody to get close to them, and I don’t see that with the current players they have got and the current manager they have got.”
Having been sacked from his last job at Bristol City in January of last year before being appointed to his present post a couple of months later, McInnes was left with a feeling that he would like the challenge of English football again. With at least a couple of decades as a coach still in him, he would not rule anything out, but as things stand he is more than content where he is.
“It would need to be right,” he said when asked about a return to England. “Aberdeen ticks all the boxes for me. At the minute I am really happy.
“Professionally I am happy, personally I am happy, and it feels right for me at the minute. I absolutely love working at the club and I’m enjoying it. I see no reason for that to change.”
Right-back Shaleum Logan could be one of the first players McInnes signs up for next season. Having been at Pittodrie on loan from Brentford since the turn of the year, the 26-year-old is out of contract at his parent club and expects to be allowed to leave.
“I’m a free agent at the end of the season, so touch wood I don’t get injured in the next two games,” said Logan, who scored the best goal of the game on Saturday.
“Hopefully there are options out there for me, because I can be a great part of any team that’s willing to take someone like me on.”
Asked if he might stay at Aberdeen, he continued: “There’s a very high possibility of that. To say I have enjoyed it here is an understatement.
“I’ve loved every minute of it. Doc [assistant manager Tony Docherty] and the gaffer, you couldn’t meet two nicer people, I love them to bits. They have done very well with me, they have been very good to me, I can only thank them.
“Winning a cup, I’ve never experienced anything like that – 80,000 on Union Street was mesmerising. And to play at places like Celtic Park: I only saw places like this in the Champions League, I never saw myself playing up here but to score today and be part of winning the cup and beating these in the quarter-finals are moments I will cherish forever.”
Moments which, if McInnes has his way, will occur with greater regularity for Aberdeen from now on.
BT Sport Q&A: Rangers | Hibs | Neil Lennon
THIS week’s BT Sport video Q&A looks at whether Rangers fans will buy season tickets and if the club’s supporters will force a change of ownership.
The form of Hibs under Terry Butcher is also examined following the Easter Road side’s derby defeat while the future of Neil Lennon is also considered following the announcement that his assistant Johan Mjallby is to depart at the end of the season.
• Email your Scottish football question for the BT Sport panel to answer. The next show will be recorded on May 7 after St Johnstone v Celtic, which will also be shown live on BT Sport, with the video available on The Scotsman website the following day. You can also tweet us @TheScotsman.
A line-up of experts will handle your questions after each BT Sport game. Most match days, the team includes Darrell Currie, Derek Rae and Gary McAllister.
Over this season, BT Sport will air 30 SPFL matches plus 10 Rangers games from the SPFL League One.
• T&C We can not guarantee which presenters will answer your questions. Questions are vetted and no correspondence will be entered into.