A mere seven days into the new season Derek McInnes, the Aberdeen manager, admits his club are hurting and must find a way to make it up to the fans. This has little to do with last weekend’s tame 1-0 defeat by Rangers, as disappointing as it was. The sense of dismay stems from the subsequent conduct of a significant number of first-team players.
McInnes was forced to abandon preparations for today’s clash with St Johnstone after two positive tests among the squad following an ill-judged night out by as many as eight players saw the game postponed yesterday.
Both the health and welfare of the two players now confirmed as having Covid-19 remain the primary concerns. They and six others who went on to a bar in the city centre following last weekend’s defeat by Rangers are currently self-isolating. McInnes accepts his club need to walk willingly to the stocks.
Even Nicola Sturgeon, the first minister, admitted she was struggling to be diplomatic because she was “so furious” as she delivered her daily update yesterday. Although the St Johnstone fixture has been swiftly rearranged for a week on Thursday, there remains confusion over whether Wednesday night’s game with Hamilton Accies is on or off.
The last thing Scottish football wanted was to feature so negatively near the top of the national agenda in the first week of the new season.
“The players are getting a kicking at the moment,” said McInnes. “We need to stick together and get through this for the next couple of weeks and then hopefully get back to football and winning games.
“We are mindful of our responsibility to keep the fixture list going and keep Scottish football going. And we are grateful for the opportunity. I have said that often enough, because it was not so long ago that we thought we would not have an opening day, we would not have football or fixtures. “We do not want to spoil that. We have a bit of making up to do.”
McInnes underlined that, while he did not have a problem with players going out after a game, going out after a defeat by Rangers were not the right circumstances.
Critically, the players also broke Covid-19 protocol rules for professional football teams, initially when eight of them gathered for a post-match meal together in a restaurant. They compounded this action by then going to a packed bar in the city centre.
“I think they have been really foolish in the fact we have lost an important game to Rangers,” McInnes said. “We have all been at Aberdeen long enough to know you don’t go over the door if you lose a game. That’s where they have been foolish.
“In terms of breaking rules there’s not a club in the land that would discipline their players for going out for dinner in normal circumstances.”
But these are not normal circumstances. On top of virus concerns, the players were all due in the following day.
“They went out for dinner. And they are guilty of a real bad decision,” added the Aberdeen manager. “The bit for me that makes it even more of an issue is that they then go after dinner into a pub for half an hour or so.”
McInnes stressed there was no intention to go out partying.
“Only a couple of them had a glass of wine with their food but the majority were driving and not drinking because they had training the next day,” he explained. “The four-household rule is clear. That is where they fall short and are guilty.
“For me that’s where, in terms of the numbers that went out for dinner, and despite having the right intentions, they have broken protocol rules.”
McInnes confirmed the players will be disciplined internally. He also suggested they will have their say in the coming days.
“I have encouraged that,” he said. “They are full of remorse and well aware of the consequences of their actions.
“And we have to deal with that as a club. The fallout from this has impacted on fixtures, my selection, not having players available for the next few games. It’s not helpful.”
That is one of the understatements of the year in a city coping with a resumption of lockdown restrictions following a cluster of cases in a city centre bar, near to the premises where the Aberdeen players chose to go for a drink after their meal.
“We are jumping through all the hoops making sure things are right,” said McInnes. “The bubble we have created here means I am almost certain we won’t have any contamination or infections here [at the club’s new training ground]. It is outwith [that’s the problem].
“The fact the players have made that decision to put themselves more at risk and not take that responsibility fully is why we are sitting here hurting. We have to deal with this and take it on the chin.”
McInnes and those players able to train had just come off the training field yesterday when they heard the news that the Scottish government had demanded the postponement of today’s match in Perth. The swift about-turn – the game was declared on by Scottish Football’s Joint Response Group on Thursday evening – occurred as the full extent of a group of eight players’ ill-judged actions last Saturday night became known by government officials. McInnes had been expecting to play the match minus the eight players involved.
Their identity cannot be released by the club due to patient confidentiality rules. However, as McInnes conceded, “it will probably become apparent” soon enough.
Indeed, there will be strong indicators towards those involved as early as Wednesday, if Aberdeen’s home game with Hamilton Accies survives. Following that, they are due to travel to face champions Celtic a week today.
The harvest moon has yet to rise and McInnes has been presented with a crisis. The majority of the affected players have been self-isolating since Wednesday for 14 days – the first player to receive the positive test must self-isolate for ten days from the same day.
McInnes knows there is no room to manoeuvre on that front even if the positive tests remain at just two. He is also probably aware now isn’t the time to ask Dave Cormack, his currently despairing chairman, for some money to buy reinforcements.
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