The sale of a bit-part Aberdeen striker to a team playing in the fifth tier of English football has ignited robust debate about the merits of Scottish football compared to the game south of the Border.
If only there was some way of judging this once and for all; a two-legged fixture, say, between two sides from the top tiers of both countries, which could then be dubbed a “Battle of Britain”.
Handily, enough, that’s just what we have this evening, when Aberdeen and Burnley meet at Pittodrie in the first leg of an eagerly awaited Europa League second qualifying round tie. Aberdeen manager Derek McInnes has described the challenge as his toughest in knockout football at Aberdeen. More testing, even, than when his side faced Real Sociedad four years ago and were defeated 5-2 on aggregate.
“Sociedad finished seventh in La Liga and we were very close to getting a result here against them,” said McInnes. “They, for me, have been the best team we’ve played in the Europa League. Burnley will be as good as anything we’ve faced in Europe.”
It’s a convenient fixture given the storm generated by Adam Rooney, the aforementioned bit-part striker, joining Salford City – or at least the reaction this has generated. Some see Rooney’s departure as representing one of the four horsemen of the apocalypse riding in to sink Scottish football once and for all.
As McInnes stressed, everything is relative – and the point is proved by the new context in which tonight’s clash is placed. For those wishing to make comparisons, how about this: Aberdeen’s average weekly wage is £2,623. Burnley’s is £26,375. The Scottish club’s record transfer fee paid is just £1 million – for Paul Bernard, over 20 years ago. Burnley broke their record just last summer when signing New Zealand forward Chris Wood from Leeds United for £15m.
“Burnley will have to use their money just to compete in their league,” reasoned McInnes. “There can be comparisons but in comparison to us, in terms of what they can spend, there is a huge chasm.
“I suppose everything is relative to the league they are in. I do not think Burnley have ever been a team that throw money at it. The strength of their team comes from everything else but money. They have earned the right to spend.”
Burnley have been linked with £10m-rated Nantes striker Abdoulaye Toure. McInnes, meanwhile, has been desperately trying to secure a striker on loan from England’s lower tiers ahead of last night’s European deadline. He did complete two pieces of business yesterday. Defender Tommie Hoban has signed on loan from Watford while keeper Tomas Cerny has joined as back-up for Joe Lewis on a one-year contract from Partick Thistle.
Even recently, Aberdeen are by far the more experienced European campaigners – Burnley haven’t tasted this arena since 1967, when they lost a Fairs Cup quarter-final tie to Eintracht Frankfurt. However, history doesn’t count for much in the cold harsh world of economics and the new reality of English football’s riches.
While Aberdeen coming off second best to Burnley cannot be treated as a shock any longer, for obvious reasons, and there’s a debate to be had about money ruining football, McInnes had a message for those wishing to exploit his club’s sale of Rooney to illustrate Scottish football’s decline. Jim White, the TalkSPORT and Sky Sports presenter, was the first, remarking on Twitter that he was “flabbergasted” to hear Rooney had chosen to join a side in the Vanarama National League – effectively England’s fifth tier. “Is this a new low for Scottish football and can we change it’s [sic] fortunes?” he asked.
Another England-based Jim White, writing in the Daily Telegraph, picked up this argument and ran with it. Rooney swapping a club “which finished runners-up in Scotland for the past four seasons, a club which won the European Cup-Winners’ Cup, for Salford City” was “stark” and “depressingly different” to even Virgil van Dijk leaving Celtic to join a middling Premier League side in Southampton.
McInnes rubbished those electing to comment on something from such a position of ignorance. “I am not bothered about people’s perception of Scottish football,” he said.
“That’s up to them but it’s not important to me. I know where we are and there’s a lot of good about Scottish football.
“Loads of players go from our league and go on to do very well and establish their careers at the bigger clubs in England. Last season two former players from our league played in the Champions League final for Liverpool.
“I’ve not got any time or interest to justify the Scottish League to people,” he added. “People can be too dismissive of Scottish football but I’m not really bothering about changing perceptions. I know where we are.”
McInnes is understood to be angered by the way in which the episode has been framed as a talisman Aberdeen striker leaving for a non-league English team on the eve of a hugely attractive fixture. It’s not the same as if Mark McGhee left Aberdeen for Kettering Town days before they took on Liverpool in their European Cup clash in 1980.
Salford are being bankrolled by investors, including former Manchester United players Gary Neville, Paul Scholes and Ryan Giggs. Rooney, meanwhile, only scored nine league goals last season and was omitted from the starting XI more times then he was included.
There’s a clear feeling Aberdeen had seen the best of a player who, while once a key man, is now in his 30s. The alternative view, at least alternative to the prevailing view south of the Border, is the six-figure fee they struck with Salford represented a good deal for Aberdeen.
Among more pressing concerns is finding a replacement, with McInnes still on the lookout for a centre forward. Preston North End’s Eoin Doyle has already turned down a loan move while former Motherwell striker Louis Moult, who is at the same League One English club, is out of Aberdeen’s price range.