Craig Fowler: Derek McInnes' loyalty bucks trend in Scotland

Derek McInnes' decision to turn down Sunderland, an English club which has spent the past ten years in the Premier League and whose team regularly play in front of 40,000-plus crowds, to stay at Aberdeen is almost unprecedented in today's Scottish football landscape. A world in which the manager of Hearts leaves for the riches of MK Dons, the Hibs boss to the lure of Rotherham, and the Kilmarnock gaffer to Bury, a club which your average fan only recognises through fixed-odds lists and Gillette Soccer Saturday.
In rejecting Sunderland, Derek McInnes may have been feeling loyal to the players he would have left behind. Picture: SNS.In rejecting Sunderland, Derek McInnes may have been feeling loyal to the players he would have left behind. Picture: SNS.
In rejecting Sunderland, Derek McInnes may have been feeling loyal to the players he would have left behind. Picture: SNS.

Money and the possibility of moving up the English football ladder, with the promised land of the Premier League at the end of such a journey, was what convinced those 
managers to move down south, making McInnes’ rejection all the more surprising.

The team carefully and craftily assembled over the past few years is beginning to break apart. Ash Taylor may not be looked upon as a great loss, but seeing Ryan Jack, Niall McGinn and Jonny Hayes all depart in the same summer is a tough one to take. This is a club which, over the past few years, have relied on a small but solid core of players, and four of them suddenly need replacing.

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It is a club at a crossroads, and McInnes was given the chance to be airlifted out. But, instead of grasping the chance with both hands, he took on the role of army general, refusing to leave his troops behind while there was still fighting to be done.

His true motivation may never come out. In the aftermath of the rejection, the man himself claimed it was a decision due to unfinished business at Aberdeen, mainly the building of a training complex and advancement to the Europa League group stages. Following a statement on Friday by Sunderland, it has been suggested McInnes did not take the offer because his job could not be guaranteed before the season had even started, due to the club’s ongoing discussions over potential new ownership. Dons fans will believe the former; critics will point to the latter. The truth will likely lie somewhere in the middle. It certainty sits far from John Hartson’s ignorant insinuation that McInnes batted his eyelids in Sunderland’s direction before backing away because the offer was not good enough.

Something that wasn’t mentioned, but which may have played a part, was a sense of loyalty. It seems almost naive to write because the word is almost worthless in modern football, but that does not mean certain individuals cannot be swayed by its emotional pull. Perhaps McInnes felt loyalty. Not toward the club or the fans, but to the players he would have been leaving behind.

Aberdeen have been excellent at getting their best and brightest tied down to new deals over the tenure of the current management team. McGinn, Hayes, Adam Rooney, Jack and Andy Considine have all signed new deals at the club. When Shay Logan signed a new deal, not once but twice, you had to wonder whether McInnes was taking a shotgun into negotiations. In the right-back’s case, here was a player who was heavily, heavily rumoured to be returning down south due to family issues, but decided to stay in 
Scotland’s north-east.

Instead of using intimidation via firearm, or some sort of mind control, it is probable that McInnes used terms like “loyalty”, “family” and “togetherness” when convincing these guys to stick around. Part of his pitch would have been telling them that he was in it for the long haul as well. “Sign for me and we’ll build something together. I’m not going anywhere.”

Sure, some have decided the time is right to move on, but there still would have been a significant number left behind if McInnes had decided to follow McGinn and Hayes, pictured, out of the door. The players would have understood, but it is still a tough situation from which to wrench yourself, especially given the isolated nature of Aberdeen. It is likely these guys have acted as a surrogate family for each other over the past few years.

Realism would suggest this would not be his main reason, but if he was swaying whether to stay where he knew he was loved and wanted, or take a leap into the unknown, it might have acted as the tipping point.

His past experience with English football would also have played a role. He wasn’t a great success at Bristol City, but he was hardly a disaster either, and later stated that he was not given sufficient time to turn around a struggling side. It is a cut-throat business, even more so than up here. It is more than likely new ownership would have given him a chance, rather than fire him right away, as is customary. But with no credit in the bank with either them or the fans, it could have been a swift exit once more and the uncertainty of unemployment. Even with the bonus of a tripled salary, the grass is not always greener.

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The hope now is that McInnes does not become a warning to other managers, much as Billy Reid was in 2010. Manager of Hamilton Accies at the time, Reid was approached by Swansea City about becoming their new boss. It was not quite a formality in the same sense as McInnes, but he was invited for an interview and would have been a strong contender. Instead, Reid declined and stayed with Hamilton, admirably citing “loyalty” as a reason. One year later, Accies were relegated. Two years after that, Reid departed by mutual agreement. He has not been a manager since, though does have a reasonably good gig as the No 2 at Swedish club Östersunds.

This coming season could go a long way to deciding whether McInnes’ career trajectory will continue to rise, and he will eventually get a better offer down the line, or whether the team and his stock will begin to drop.

Taylor should be easily replaceable, as Anthony O’Connor is already an able deputy, while Greg Tansey might actually bring better balance to Aberdeen’s midfield three than Jack. Hayes and McGinn will be more difficult to replace, though the acquisition of Ryan Christie on a season-long loan will ease the blow.

Regardless of whether Pedro Caixinha was right to insinuate Aberdeen were on the decline, the loss of four key first-team players means he was correct in saying this was the end of a cycle – Hayes and McGinn alone defined an era. Staying for the next spin was a brave move by McInnes, but as he built Aberdeen into a Ladbrokes Premiership powerhouse once before, you would be a fool to back against him doing so again.