Derek McInnes was disappointed Jai Quitongo could not make himself at home at Aberdeen.
However, the Dons boss reckons the Morton frontman’s career is now built on solid foundations after linking up with Jim Duffy.
Quitongo – son of former Hamilton and Hearts winger Jose – was tipped to be Aberdeen’s next breakthrough starlet but he failed to settle in the Granite City and was released by the Reds after a few months.
That knockback, though, proved a blessing for the 19-year-old after reinventing himself with Duffy in Greenock. Doncaster have already failed with a bid to prise him away but the likes of Crystal Palace, Hull and Swansea may have more pulling power come January.
McInnes will be reacquainted with his former charge when his side take on the Ton in Saturday’s BetFred Cup semi-final at Hampden but he is just pleased to see the youngster making the most of his obvious talents.
He said: “Jai was a popular boy here but he never really settled. He was homesick quite a lot. I know his dad Jose quite well and we worked with the family. We tried to be quite understanding and being at home was good for him. That is now being shown in his performances.
“He can be an inspiration to other young players who feel they are drifting out the game.
“Jai had been here, there and everywhere. We gave him a little short-term deal to see if he enjoyed it up here. But he never really settled and we let him move on.
“He was scratching about trying to get a club but Jim has seen something in him. He’s raw but flourishing with the confidence he has been given.
“He was a boy I liked. He had an edge to him and it’s good to see him doing well.”
McInnes was once a Morton player having started his career there, but he will have no split loyalties as he looks to land his second trophy for the Dons in three seasons.
He said: “Morton is a club close to my heart and that will always be there but my job is to get Aberdeen to a cup final and hopefully win it.
“I think the players have done well to put themselves in this position. It’s our third League Cup semi in four years.
“We’ve won one and lost one but we don’t need any reminding how big the difference between those two results is.
“Hopefully the maturity my team has had of the big games we’ve been involved over the past few seasons helps. It doesn’t give us any guarantee that we’ll win the game but I always think in a semi-final it’s about handling the expectation and making sure we’re confident enough.
“I want my team to be the one that everyone looks at after the game and says they are the team who wanted it more, they worked the hardest, they ran the hardest, they won more challenges. If we can do that then hopefully we can win the game.”