Like any Aberdeen manager, which is what he still is, Derek McInnes wishes to emulate Alex Ferguson. By turning down a move to Rangers, by obeying an old Doric commandment passed down the generations, he remains on the right track.
Ferguson went on to greater things after doing so in the 1980s. A little farther down the east coast at Dundee United, Jim McLean also rejected the Ibrox club’s advances. He lived to regret it – certainly in a financial sense. Already well remunerated at Pittodrie, McInnes can afford not to have such concerns.
Visitors to Pittodrie yesterday were required to sign in ahead of what everyone knew would be a busy pre-match press conference. It was the issue of who might be signing out at the end of the day that was the biggest question, and remained so until early evening.
There were bright blue skies in Aberdeen. Everything else, however, seemed clear as mud. Under-20s coach Paul Sheerin, who was phoned by McInnes on Tuesday night and asked if he would take training the following morning, did what he could do satisfy the demands of reporters.
“He said we will not make it in tomorrow, that’s as much as he said to me, and would I look after things,” recalled Sheerin. “I was happy to do that.” Graeme Shinnie, the skipper, revealed the players hadn’t seen the manager since they were in the dressing room together following Sunday’s bitterly disappointing 2-1 defeat by ten-man Rangers.
The first-team squad were given Monday off. Sheerin, whose last game as manager at senior level was at Arbroath more than three years ago, was left to prepare the side for tonight’s Premiership clash against Dundee at Dens Park.
It’s where Aberdeen triumphed 7-0 on their last visit under McInnes. It’s where they head under him again tonight. Whether “business as usual”, which the club’s website was stressing it was last night, extends to thumping Dundee at Dens, time will tell.
McInnes’ decision to remain at Pittodrie has confounded expectations. But it supported Sheerin’s hunch that the manager would be staying. He had the news confirmed via a phone call from McInnes as he left the ground shortly after 4pm. “Because of the timescale maybe if you asked me yesterday I would have said yes, he would go,” Sheerin said earlier in the day. “But because of the timescale I am maybe a wee bit more sceptical if it is going to happen or not.”
Sheerin is clearly as accurate at reading situations as he once was when taking penalties. Even in and around Pittodrie few others seemed to share his confidence. McInnes had been conspicuous by his absence once again.
Life was endeavouring to go on as normal but even Sheerin admitted there was “a bit of a malaise” hanging over the club earlier in the week. Two successive defeats by Rangers tends to have this effect. Having then to accept losing a manager to the Ibrox club was the worst possible scenario for Aberdeen fans – even the reputed near £1 million compensation fee wasn’t going to soften their stance.
The Pittodrie communications team had their work cut out. Initially their tricky task was to compile a statement thanking McInnes for his efforts while avoiding wishing him well at his new club, as convention normally requires. Those responsible for treading this fine line knew every word would be pored over by fans desperate to ensure nothing could be interpreted as hoping McInnes – and by extension Rangers – enjoyed success in the future.
But, at just before 6pm, the comms personnel had the more joyous task of confirming the management team of McInnes and assistant Tony Docherty were staying. It’s a drill they know well following McInnes’ rejection of Sunderland’s advances in June. Ferguson remains the last Aberdeen manager to leave for another club.
Even here in the Granite City, most would be lying if they claimed they hadn’t expected Aberdeen to be looking for a new manager today. A fans’ group chairman even described McInnes’ position as “untenable”. Supporters had been driven to outrage by the manner of what looked like being a drawn-out departure. What stuck in the throat most, however, was that McInnes was heading to hated rivals. That sourness was intensified by the slow dance performed by both parties during the wooing process. Sheerin made a point of stressing he hoped supporters would still feel able to celebrate McInnes’ achievements.
“He gave his all to the club,” said Sheerin. “He has done a brilliant job. The nature of the beast in football is we move on, someone else will take over. If he does go he’s left the club in a better place than it was when he came in. I don’t think they [the fans] can be overly disappointed with the way he has left the club if that’s the case – but they may well be.”
There’s no question the McInnes years have been positive for the club, both on and off the pitch. In terms of profitability, his four and a half years have helped transform Aberdeen’s finances – turnover has more than doubled to £15.2m and this year there was a profit of £500,000. The exciting team he has created has attracted investment from moneymen such as major shareholder Dave Cormack and the Boston-based businessman Tom Crotty. Aberdeen were runners-up last season in every competition behind a club in a different financial league. Indeed, they would have finished second in each of McInnes’ four full seasons to date but for a contentious final day defeat by Motherwell in 2013-14. Then there’s the League Cup win of 2014, Aberdeen’s first major honour in nearly 20 years.
But just as McInnes has been good for the club, Aberdeen have been good for McInnes. This was possibly among the reasons helping convince him to stay. He joined following a spell out of the game after being sacked by Bristol City. Indeed, he was not even first choice. The club had an approach for Derek Adams, then at Ross County, rebuffed.
Through hard work, astute buys and a restructuring of the youth system – Sheerin was brought in by McInnes to run the Under 20s – the marriage has reaped a reward. No one could dispute this. But there’s no doubt McInnes’ refusal to distance himself from the Rangers post in recent weeks angered supporters.
He has now spent a proportion of the week following successive defeats by Rangers liaising with the Ibrox club about possibly going there. It is not a good look. That’s why it is fair to say his work at Aberdeen now really begins.