Derek McInnes has opened talks with Kenny McLean about extending the midfielder’s contract beyond next summer but the Aberdeen manager is realistic about how difficult it will be to hold onto a player who has already been a transfer target for Rangers.
Pedro Caixinha has made no secret of the fact that he wants to sign McLean, who started his career as a youngster at Ibrox, and even had a cheeky £300,000 bid for the player thrown out by the Pittodrie board back in June.
Aberdeen also made it clear to their rivals for second place in the Premiership that McLean wouldn’t be heading for Ibrox at any price but the problem is the midfielder is out of contract at the end of the season.
McInnes is acutely aware that Rangers have previous when it comes to exploiting that sort of situation as they snapped up Aberdeen captain Ryan Jack under freedom of contract in May.
That’s why McInnes has moved quickly to try to persuade McLean and defender Anthony O’Connor to sign new deals. But the loss of Jack, Niall McGinn and Ash Taylor in similar circumstances means he is realistic about the prospects of success.
“We have spoken to Kenny and Anthony, who are out of contract as well as one or two of the younger ones,” McInnes revealed. “It has been on-going. These things can take a bit longer but we are in discussions.
“I’m sure we will try to find a way to make both happen if possible. If we can’t then we will deal with it and move on.”
McInnes, meanwhile, insists seeing Aberdeen’s recent opponents reach the group stages of European competition increases his belief they can go on to do likewise in the future.
Maribor are in the same section as Liverpool in the Champions League a year after a controversial win against the Dons in Europa League qualifying.
The Rijeka side Aberdeen thumped 5-2 on aggregate two years ago in the qualifiers are now facing the likes of AC Milan in their Europa League group. And Apollon Limassol, who knocked the Dons out of the tournament last month, have progressed to glamour games against Everton, Lyon and Italian side Atalanta.
McInnes admits it adds to the frustration of failing to make it beyond the third qualifying stage in four attempts but strengthens his conviction that they will get there eventually.
“Those three teams that we have played in the last few years have gone from strength to strength but it is encouraging to have played well against them,” he said. “When we see these teams in the Champions League and the Europa League, it heightens the frustrations but it shows me we are getting closer to realising that opportunity to play in the group stages.
“If our team was a bit more settled going into these games it would have made a difference. We went into the Limassol games without a lot of the players we signed and without a lot of them being ready. We didn’t have certain players in the building at that stage either.
“If we can be more ready for these games it may make a difference to reaching our target but we have gone out to some good teams.
“I felt we should have beaten Limassol and while we have no divine right to beat these teams I still felt we missed an opportunity.”