Billy McNeill’s significant one-season impact as Aberdeen manager

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While Billy McNeill’s life and legacy is inextricably linked with Celtic, his brief spell as Aberdeen manager also left a lasting and significant impact on Scottish football.

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Billy McNeil has died at the age of 79. Picture: SNS

Billy McNeil has died at the age of 79. Picture: SNS

McNeill spent just 12 months in charge at Pittodrie but it was a period which many connected with the club regard as crucial in setting them on their way to the greatest era in their history under Alex Ferguson.

Having dipped his toe into managerial waters for the first time at the end of the 1976-77 season, losing just one of his eight games in charge of then third-tier Clyde, McNeill received the call from Aberdeen to replace Ally MacLeod who had left to become Scotland boss.

The 1977-78 campaign saw McNeill challenge impressively for domestic glory on all three fronts with the Dons, only to be foiled in each competition by his former Old Firm foes Rangers.

But the football Aberdeen produced that season is still fondly recalled by their supporters of a certain vintage, while McNeill’s shrewd transfer market nous saw him sign two players in Gordon Strachan and Steve Archibald who would go on to play major roles in the halcyon days of Ferguson’s tenure.

Aberdeen may have ended that 77-78 season empty-handed, losing the league title by just two points to Rangers, exiting the League Cup in the semi-finals against the Ibrox men and then falling short against them once more in the Scottish Cup Final. But McNeill’s impact at Pittodrie was recognised when he received the Manager of the Year award.

There was dismay but understanding at Aberdeen when McNeill was unable to resist the call to return to Celtic and replace Jock Stein as manager in the summer of 1978, where he would go on to savour some epic battles for silverware with Ferguson’s Aberdeen over the next five years.

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