As Aberdeen prepare to take on Rangers today, the McInnes-to-Ibrox saga raises important and worrying questions for Scottish football.
For a full month numerous newspapers, along with BBC Radio Scotland, ran pieces promoting Derek McInnes as Rangers’ next manager, and made unsubstantiated claims. Back on 30 October we learned that McInnes would be in place “before the international break”. Nothing happened, but ten days later, we heard that Derek was a “done deal”. He and Tony Docherty would be unveiled “this week” and ex-Dons captain Ryan Jack would have “no problem” working with him.
The noise grew, clearly destabilising the Aberdeen players’ performances. It often felt as if McInnes was being shoved in a barrel, or a hamster wheel, the whole 146 miles to Ibrox. Via newspapers and radio, ever more ex-Rangers players – even former manager Dick Advocaat – were wheeled out to insist he was the perfect fit, the right man. Headlines shouted: “McInnes WANTS the job and WILL be next manager”, “This is how a team of his might line up at Ibrox”, “It has to be McInnes, is popular verdict”, and “Don’t miss out on your dream job, Derek!”
Early on, when McInnes pointedly said stability and a manager’s relationship with chairman and board were very important, this was strangely construed as “He refused to rule out move to Rangers”. Media sources claimed Rangers offered him a “tempting personal package” and a sizeable budget. Rangers had funds to pay the £1.5 million compensation. Or a bargain £800,000 compensation – for both McInnes and Docherty!
Yet even by 3 November worrying financial figures had emerged from Rangers, showing their annual losses had doubled. Finally, on 23 November, a bristling McInnes reiterated what his chairman Stewart Milne had announced the previous night: that Rangers had not even approached him in a whole month. Questions, he snapped, should be directed to “that club”, not to Aberdeen.
Worrying questions now need answers. Is it the BBC’s job to report, investigate and discuss sporting issues impartially, or to promote the wishes of a club, its ex- players and many of its fans – a club which does not even officially speak to them?
Most of all, which biases and assumptions among those who write, discuss and influence our game does this saga reveal to our larger non-Old-Firm clubs?
Three things at least.
The first assumption made is that any ambitious Scottish boss would want to leave their own provincial outfit for the honour of managing Rangers. Aberdeen, currently Scotland’s second most successful club, might just as well have been Brechin City for the ambition and attractiveness most pundits and media appeared to give them.
Secondly, you’re always a “Rangers Man” – even if you’ve spent longer at several other clubs, captained three of them, and are believed by former neighbours of your family to support Morton anyway.
Thirdly and critically, the traditional order in Scottish football has gone wrong somehow, and needs to be restored. This is the big reveal. Many may not even consciously realise that they think this, but the steamroller saga suggests otherwise.
McInnes has simply looked the best of the obtainable managers to restore Rangers’ sagging fortunes; to challenge Celtic sooner rather than later; to bring back that familiar, historic top-two battle in Scottish football. And in the process, to take the main man away from these upstarts, who have muscled in between them.