Craig Brown’s near 40-year managerial career has just eight games to run after the Aberdeen manager announced yesterday that he had decided to retire at the end of the season.
Since taking up his post as assistant manager to Willie McLean at Motherwell in 1974, Brown has been a mainstay of the Scottish football scene and is considered to have been one of the country’s most successful international managers.
He has agreed to remain in the game as a non-executive director at Pittodrie and will have a say in identifying his replacement. Archie Knox, the current assistant manager, will leave the club after the season ends.
Aberdeen chairman Stewart Milne said both Brown and Knox had worked “tirelessly” to turn the club around, and he praised their “immense” contribution. “When Craig indicated that he would step down I asked him to become a non-executive director and I am delighted to say this will take effect immediately,” Milne said.
Aberdeen-born Ross County manager Derek Adams has already been installed as an early favourite to take over at Pittodrie, where he had two different spells as a player. Adams recently led his team to a 1-0 win at the ground and Ross County’s form has earned them a chance to clinch a European place in their first season since being promoted as First Division champions.
At 37, Adams has a very different profile to Brown, whose experience was a primary reason why he was recruited from Motherwell, just over two years ago. Brown, who turns 73 in the summer, became a manager for the first time in his own right when taking over at Clyde in 1977. As recently as last week, he was usurped as oldest manager in British football when Alex Smith, who was born the year before Brown, took over at Falkirk on an interim basis, following Steven Pressley’s departure for Coventry City.
Brown will leave, he says, with “everything in place” at Aberdeen. His principal aim on being recruited from Motherwell was to lead the Dons, then bottom of the Scottish Premier League, away from relegation, which he managed to do. They finished ninth in his first season and ninth again last season.
Brown has stabilised the club, without also managing to inspire the great leap forward desired by both Brown and the Aberdeen fans, and they again linger just short of the top six, with Celtic to be faced this weekend at Celtic Park.
“I am honoured and flattered that they have asked me to be a director,” he told The Scotsman last night. “I still have a very strong affection for the football club. Everyone has a shelf-life, and I think it was my time. I wanted to wait until the end of the season to tell them. But, in fairness, we need to decide on players who are out of contract and it also gives them time to get a new manager as quickly as possible.
“I might be right and I might be wrong,” he said, with reference to the timing, and his sense that it was time to call an end to a managerial career that has included both a World Cup finals and a European Championship finals. He also led Scotland to a 1-0 win against England in the last international to be staged at the old Wembley, although Scotland lost out in the Euro 2000 play-off 2-1 on aggregate. He now intends to spend more time with his grandchildren, although he will remain involved at Aberdeen.
“I am very, very happy here,” said Brown. “It is a super football club. And now we have a super group of players. Everything is now in place. When I came they were struggling and isolated at the bottom of the league. They had lost 12 out of 16 league games, and we steadied things, and got a good response.
“At this moment, we still have the longest unbeaten run in the SPL this season. We still have the second-best defensive record. We have had cruel luck, particularly in the Scottish Cup against Hibs in the last couple of seasons.
“There is so much good stuff that I am happy about.”
He had no fears about the attitude of the Aberdeen players during what is left of the season. “I am quite sure it will not make any difference to the way they perform – they are always very enthusiastic,” he said. “I am sure it will be the same. Some of them are out of contract, and they will be playing to impress me as well as the new manager.”
Players queued up to send the manager their best wishes on Twitter yesterday. “Hopefully as players and as a team we can get the results to give the gaffer and Archie the send-off they deserve,” wrote goalkeeper Jamie Langfield, who thanked them for helping him make a return to the first-team after a brain seizure. Youngster Cammy Smith posted that he was “sad to hear the news of [the] manager”, and he paid tribute to Brown for “giving me my chance”. Striker Niall McGinn, meanwhile, said he was “saddened” to learn of Brown’s decision, thanking both the manager and Knox for helping him “massively” in a campaign in which he scored 17 times.
On being informed of the messages, Brown said: “I am too old for Twitter. But I have had a lot of nice comments from the players. The word ‘gutted’ has been used quite a lot. It’s been nice to hear.
“I am not emotional usually,” he added. He did admit to one shaky moment yesterday, on delivering the news to his Aberdeen captain. “When I spoke to Russell Anderson today, I did get slightly emotional,” he admitted. “But I often get accused of having no emotion. In football, you can’t afford to be too sensitive.”
However, he has “had a ball” in his career, from a player with Rangers, where he sustained a knee injury that prevented him from reaching the heights he might otherwise have done, to his last job at Aberdeen, where the attraction of one last chance with a major club had been too tempting to resist. He conceded that “it will be disappointing when it’s all over”.
When he hirples down the touchline one last time, it will feel like one of the Northern Lights has gone out.
Odds for Aberdeen manager (supplied by McBookie)
Derek Adams 6/4
Craig Levein 7/1
Billy Stark 8/1
Derek McInnes 8/1
Alex McLeish 9/1
Paul Hartley 10/1
Allan Moore 12/1
Mixu Paatelainen 12/1
Eric Black 14/1