IF THERE was some consolation to be found in the immediate aftermath of Thursday’s night’s Europa League aggregate defeat by Kairat Almaty, perhaps it was knowledge Aberdeen could still boast of making the longest trek in European competition.
But sadly, unlike European Cup Winners’ Cup and Super Cup wins, they don’t give out stars to stitch above club crests for such feats. In any case, even this claim is now set to be snatched from the Pittodrie club by Bordeaux, who were yesterday drawn to face Kairat, Aberdeen’s conquerors.
Aberdeen have been outrun by a distance of just 400 or so kilometres, with Uefa yesterday calculating the distance between Bordeaux’s base in the west of France to Almaty as 5,947 kms. It is now the official Longest Journey.
Of course, Kairat can also jointly boast of being European football’s most intrepid adventurers, just as they can now brag about coming through a potentially tricky tie against Aberdeen, with all the logistical difficulties entailed.
Their manager, Vladimir Weiss, sounded particularly satisfied on Thursday as he spoke of his pride at defeating a club which he said had been put on the map by Sir Alex Ferguson.
But there could yet be some succour for Aberdeen as they seek to clinch a first league title since the days of Ferguson. Despite the huge distances involved in the tie, there was little between Kairat and Aberdeen on the pitch, which was why McInnes was left feeling so frustrated.
He felt Aberdeen had shown they are a difficult team to contain when they play with the intensity they did in the 1-1 draw at a sold-out Pittodrie two nights ago.
But such performances will need to be replicated many more times during this season in much less inspirational settings if they are to make Celtic anxious about retaining their title.
McInnes suggested he might feel better about what he considered was a premature exit from Europe if he is sitting with a trophy in his hands come the end of the season. Clearly the title is a less realistic proposition but there is also the ambition of lifting either cup – or indeed both cups.
“We have still so much to look forward to,” McInnes said on Thursday as he processed the disappointment of having exited Europe.
He was not quite rubbing his hands at the possibilities that glinted before his eyes. However, he was clearly anticipating a season when Aberdeen could and perhaps should manage what many expected them to do in the last campaign, and win a major honour.
Similar disappointment was felt following their European exit against Real Sociedad at the same stage last year. The deflation was compounded by the early end to their Scottish Cup hopes following the fourth-round defeat by Dundee in November, and the loss to Dundee United in the semi-final of the League Cup at the beginning of this year.
It meant Aberdeen could concentrate on what was excitedly termed a league title race with Celtic. However, their failure to match up with the champions in games against them put paid to their hopes. Whether or not McInnes’s side can compete with Ronny Deila’s side this season remains to be seen.
McInnes was not completely convinced that being knocked out of Europe can be seen as a positive when it was put to him last week, after one newspaper columnist proposed that it would be beneficial in terms of their domestic ambitions. The manager said he could “understand” the argument if Aberdeen reached the group stages, when the strength in depth of their squad really would be tested.
“But for now, we just want to do as well as we can in all competitions,” he said. “I think the experience you have as players playing in these sorts of games and travelling to different places and the pressure to get results, it is all part of the development going forward.
“You would rather have that than watching other teams having it. We are glad to be in [it] and try and get as much from it as possible.”
But Aberdeen must now return to their domestic labours after the end of these summer adventures in Europe (and Asia). First up tomorrow afternoon are Kilmarnock, who suffered such an eye-opening malfunction when they kicked off their season last Saturday against Dundee.
Aberdeen defender Andrew Considine yesterday referred to tomorrow’s game as being a chance to prove “we mean business this year”. Another win would keep their 100 per cent league record intact following last weekend’s victory at Dundee United. Perhaps McInnes might now be regretting postponing next midweek’s clash against Hamilton Accies, since it could hand Celtic the chance to establish an early lead over their likely closest rivals.
Considine was asked whether Aberdeen can make an even more serious bid to wrest the title from Celtic this time around. His answer contained some sense of why many struggle to get too excited about the prospect of a bona fide title race developing – Celtic’s buying power in contrast to that of everyone else, including Aberdeen. “It is hard to say,” he said. “When we were pushing them last year around Christmas time they went out and splashed a bit of cash. They took Dundee United’s two best players because they knew we were on their tails.
“They have that luxury, which I suppose we don’t really have,” added Considine. “But I feel the team spirit is even stronger this year and the squad is a lot stronger. I really do feel we can push them further this year. We need to show that week in week out. There were games last year when we stumbled towards the end so we need to show some real resilience this year.”
While Kairat were drawn against Bordeaux in yesterday’s play-off draw, English Premier League side Southampton learned that they will have to overcome FC Midtjylland if they are to reach the group stages of the Europa League. The Danish champions dropped into the competition following their Champions League defeat on the away goals rule to Cypriot side APOEL.
Europa League play-off round
• Altach v Belenenses
• Zilina v Athletic Bilbao
• Steaua Bucharest v Rosenborg
• Zorya v Legia Warsaw
• Plzen v Vojvodina
• Milsami v St Etienne
• Jablonec v Ajax
• Young Boys v Qarabag
• Molde v Standard Liege
• PAOK v Brondby
• Bordeaux v Kairat
• Lech v Videoton
• Dinamo Minsk v Salzburg
• Rabotnicki v Rubin
• Liberec v Hajduk Split
• Atromitos v Fenerbahce
• Panathinaikos v Qabala
• Southampton v FC Midtjylland
• Astra v AZ Alkmaar
• Odd v Borussia Dortmund
• Krasnodar v HJK
• Thun v Sparta Prague
Ties to be played 20 & 27 August