Derek McInnes knows the worth of Scott McKenna. As do Aberdeen fans and those who watched his first performances for Scotland in a remarkable breakthrough season.
Now the Aberdeen manager has challenged his in-demand centre-half to showcase his qualities live on television at a ground he might be visiting on league duty soon enough. McInnes is bracing himself for a bid from Swansea after the Championship club contacted Aberdeen to enquire about the defender’s availability earlier this week. The manager believes McKenna should have higher aspirations than England’s second tier.
It is a distraction McInnes, pictured, could do without as his side prepare to get to grips with the task of earning a positive result against Burnley at Turf Moor tonight. In order to progress in the Europa League they must score at least one goal. But they must also seek to avoid being easily breached at the back. Conceding once might not alter the situation hugely but conceding twice would be potentially fatal to their chances of reaching the third qualifying round following last week’s 1-1 draw at Pittodrie.
Sitting in a seat normally occupied by English Premier League managers, perhaps McInnes felt emboldened last night. He was certainly talking Premier League numbers as he dealt with queries about McKenna. The Aberdeen party flew down yesterday after training in the city. The players, including man of the moment McKenna, restricted themselves to a walk across the Turf Moor pitch on their arrival in Burnley.
With only days left until the end of the English transfer window, McInnes could not avoid the subject of McKenna’s future. He confirmed Swansea’s interest.
“We are not saying he is not for sale,” said the manager. “But any offer for McKenna will need to be way over the top – whether that’s in this window, the next window or a future window. It’s not a matter of if Scott McKenna leaves Aberdeen. It’s when. And from my point of view, given what we want to do this season I would rather it was further down the line.
“But you never know. Swansea [are selling] a centre half for £18-20million [Alfie Mawson, who is on the brink of moving to Fulham] and for me Scott McKenna will be every bit as good – and has potential to be even better – than the boy who has just left.”
McInnes, who once managed Bristol City in the Championship, strongly advises McKenna not to bother with England’s second tier. He is better than that. Indeed, the manager was quite blunt when asked if he saw McKenna developing into Scotland’s best centre-half. “I think he is now,” he said.
“I think Scott will go straight to the English Premier League in time. He will bypass the Championship. He is too good not to be playing in the Premier League in the future. I think Scott feels he is good enough too.
“I think it suggests the confidence that the player has in himself. No disrespect to the Championship clubs because they have a lot of money to spend but I think Scott will go straight to the Premier League. I am just hoping it is not this summer.”
One of McKenna’s qualities is being able to let such speculation wash over him. He has already dealt with skippering Scotland against Mexico in Estadio Azteca aged just 21 so he has demonstrated an ability to keep a clear head. McInnes did confirm he had spoken to the player about Swansea’s approach.
“I would always speak to a player if an offer has been put in,” he said. “There hasn’t been an offer. But out of respect we let his agent know and let Scott know as well. Scott’s priory is getting us through this tie tomorrow.
“How he is on the pitch is how he is off it,” he added. “He just deals with what he needs to deal with.
“He wants to establish himself as Scotland’s best centre half – to do that he needs to play football. He understands about doing the yards and doing the games and not being someone’s third or fourth choice just because there is more money involved.
“We cannot stop them [Swansea] making a bid. It was two or three days ago so we have not heard anything, I wouldn’t be totally surprised if the clubs make contact before the window closes.”
The English window closes imminently – on 9 August. McKenna could be compelled to stay by the prospect of a European run at Aberdeen.
Turf Moor won’t be quite full tonight. Burnley expect a crowd of between 18 and 19,000, a few thousand below capacity for the club’s first home European tie in 51 years. While it is bound to prove a partisan environment McInnes will remind his players they have played, and won, in more intimidating venues.