Friday, 16 May 2014


By Bryan Cooney

THIS somewhat deranged world of Scottish football is occasionally predisposed towards wild exaggeration.

The Highland News, for instance, recently reported that Inverness CT manager John Hughes had drawn comparisons between his prolific striker, Billy McKay, and the little guy employed to do similar business for FC Barcelona: Lionel Messi.

No, this is not a misprint. You imagine McKay pulling the duck-feather duvet over his head when he read that one. Can you imagine the stick he received when he next popped that head around the dressing room door at the Tulloch Caledonian Stadium?

Anyway, a similar form of hyperbole was employed in Aberdeen recently when Stewart Milne and some of his acquaintances from the business community toasted the club’s League Cup victory.

Now, aside from an impressive flourish of solidarity from over 40,000 fans, it had been a less than convincing conclusion at Hampden. The Dons just about crawled over the line, extra time and penalties being required to deny the muscular challenge of the aforementioned Inverness.

Yet the jubilation within Milne, no doubt encouraged by the massive turn-out in the city for the homecoming, was unconfined. I understand he astounded his chums by announcing that, in Derek McInnes, he’d found a manager who belonged to the same league as Alex Ferguson.

That statement put the chairman so far over the top that he effectively joined the space race. Had he totally lost his senses? Or, might he have been positively pixilated at the time of speaking?

Whatever, some form of empathy certainly can be distributed towards the man from Alford: he has experienced several torrid years, forfeited a sizeable chunk of his £400 million fortune and, it was whispered, come close to business oblivion.

His record as a football leader, meanwhile, has been so impoverished that it was comparable with the UK’s annual performance in the Eurovision Song contest. Eight managers in 19 years: that’s infiltrating the pedigree of real estate owned by the likes of Daniel Levy and Rod Petrie.

Still, with economic growth encouraging legitimate expectations and the building empire and bank balance rapidly replenishing themselves, Milne at last had discovered a man who certainly knew his way around the sporting block.

But does the fact that McInnes has won a League Cup and finished third in the Premiership, comprehensively outflanked by Celtic and marginally by Motherwell, mean they’ll be singing loud hosannas in the Granite City from here on in? It’s a possibility but some way from a probability.

Does it mean it’s acceptable to mention McInnes and Ferguson in the same sentence? No, it’s not. Listen, it’s impossible to imagine anyone taking such a claim seriously. Least of all the pragmatic McInnes.

However, there is a suggestion that the dual winner of the Manager of the Year awards is already fashioning himself in the image of the great man.

He appears to have adopted the unfortunate trait of phoning up those journalists who are not tuned into his personal wavelength. Anyone daring to query his tactics or his choice of playing personnel are liable to be in receipt of an assault of the auditory system.

Last week, it’s claimed that the phone lines between Glasgow and the South were particular busy. Radio pundit Allan Preston seemingly voiced his reservations about McInnes winning the manager awards and was rewarded with a few minutes of vituperation. From what I hear, Preston, alias The Biscuit, insisted on biting back.

Look, this is not a campaign on behalf of the media - its representatives are robust enough to look after themselves. But just remember, despite what many fans think, most of those reporters do their jobs as objectively and honestly as possible. Most of them are inveterate fans themselves.

But how robotic would we be if there was agreement on every citizen’s lips? This country still preserves its reputation as a democratised society: it is not Putin’s Russia, And, because of that, everyone is entitled to their beliefs, even it if conflicts with others.

Perish the thought that anyone should be stripped of his or her opinion by any football manager, no matter his status.

Many fans are unlikely to agree with these observations because of an inherent dislike of the media, But the habit into which McInnes is falling is ill advised, Taking issue in this manner tells you a lot about a man. It represents hubris and arrogance. But it can also suggest insecurity and paranoia.

None of these things look good on the figurative C.V. of an ambitious young thruster. And I suspect this young man is bristling with ambition.

Now, I introduced myself very briefly to McInnes at Sunday’s football writers’ dinner. I was immediately impressed. He’s a clean-cut, articulate figure who has taken on the good work initiated by Craig Brown and Archie Knox and directed the team onto the next platform.

Most fans have bought wholeheartedly into his style, after their initial suspicions. The popular mantra has now become: In McInnes We Trust. There remain a few worrying issues, however.

Being a Dons fan for 60 years and more, I told him that I was a great admirer of his team. I could have said a lot more had the situation been more appropriate. Asked him a few questions.

For instance, who recommended that Calvin Zola should ever wear an Aberdeen jersey, and how much research went into that signing?

Why was Gregg Wylde discarded with such haste and so little explanation?

Why is the lone striker system persevered with at home, when invariably there are two rows of double-decker buses parked just in front of the opposition’s penalty area? Why does he seem reluctant to alter tactics when a stalemate ensues?

Don’t misinterpret matters. I’m not anti-McInnes. Far from it. Overall, he’s performed so much better than most of his predecessors. A welter of fine work has been achieved and a smile is returning to the faces of the people of Aberdeen. But these faces are mercurial by nature.

Last Sunday, the Dons threatened to sweep Motherwell into the North Sea. By doing that, they’d have finished second in the Premiership. Ultimately, they were denied by a refereeing blunder of the first order, so they were left in third spot.

This was the last game of the season and it’s traditionally a festive occasion where players celebrate with the fans. But, five minutes after the final whistle, there were almost no Aberdeen fans with whom to celebrate.

McInnes should take that on board. The wind is firmly in his favour at this moment. He should harness it effectively rather than trying to fight it.