Persuading Ryan Jack to extend his contract at Aberdeen could prove to be just as significant as any of the additions Derek McInnes made to his squad in the summer.
The Pittodrie club’s manager brought in Willo Flood to provide the midfield department with industry and movement, while Barry Robson’s arrival has added touch and technique. Sandwiched between them, Jack is a quietly effective operator and is already feeling the benefit of playing and training alongside such an experienced pair. The fact he was so determined to stay that he signed a three-year contract extension in June was a huge boost for McInnes and the club.
In recent years, a succession of homegrown players have left Aberdeen for more lucrative deals in England without having fulfilled their promise. Chris Maguire, Jack Grimmer, Fraser Fyvie and Ryan Fraser all moved south early with varying degrees of success and for little more than compensation fees. Now, if Jack does continue the sort of progress that earned a call-up for Scotland’s recent World Cup qualifier against Croatia, the club can at least control the manner of his departure.
McInnes has no doubt the 21-year-old can play at a higher level and that the chances of that happening will only be improved by a longer spell in the Scottish Premiership. It’s a view Jack shares as he was happy to forsake financial gain for regular first-team football.
He said: “I thought that signing a new deal was right at the time for me and I stand by it. I’m happy at Pittodrie and the direction the manager is trying to guide the team and the club towards has only been positive.
“I want to be part of that and it’s great for me to play alongside Barry and Willo, who have a lot of experience. I’m learning from them in training and on the pitch.
“Barry brings great delivery and good vision. He can always spot a pass and his set pieces will be important for us this season because he delivers a great ball. Willo’s got great energy and gets about all over the pitch. It’s good to play alongside him and you get a lot of the ball from him as well, so I’m really enjoying it.”
If the Dons win today’s match against Motherwell at Fir Park, a follow-up victory over visitors Celtic on Saturday lunchtime would put them six points clear of the champions. And the main problem for McInnes is keeping a lid on expectation levels with over 7,000 season tickets sold and the certainty of a full house at Pittodrie next weekend if Motherwell are dispatched.
The manner of victory against Kilmarnock last Saturday did nothing to dampen down the supporters’ excitement but Jack, despite his tender years, knows how to deal with that.
“It’s just another game,” he claimed. “Motherwell are always up there challenging at the end of the season and they will be a big test. It’s always tough at Fir Park but a good result for us would send out a message that our pre-season work and our good start to the season has stood us in good stead.”