Derek McInnes is as divisive now as when he was appointed five years ago. …
Aberdeen need to aim higher. Over the course of this season, my belief has strengthened that Aberdeen are settling for less than they can be with Derek McInnes.
Through this article, I want to show you why.
Before this season, Derek McInnes had only given first team minutes to players who were born in either the UK or Ireland.
The man to change that, Kari Arnason, was an Icelandic international who had already had over 200 appearances in British football (33 of which came in a previous spell with the Dons).
Indeed, McInnes has not signed a single player without prior experience of British football during his five years at the club.
Sporting Intelligence’s Global Salaries Survey found that Aberdeen pay the third highest wages in the country, so it’s not like the money is not there:
This approach really stunts Aberdeen’s growth.
The two clubs who they are competing with, Celtic and Rangers, already do plenty of scouting work within the UK. The chief scouts at both clubs, Lee Congerton and Andy Scoulding, are both from England with a wide array of contacts down there.
The chances that Aberdeen will swoop in and steal a player from under their noses is slim at best.
Choosing to limit your scouting so severely is bad enough as it is. However, if the coach can then develop these players, there’s every chance that the club can still make money in this field.
This point is linked to the first graph, but take a look at all the different Scottish clubs who have brought more money in through players sales than Aberdeen:
This is pretty shoddy for a club who have become regular league runners-up.
Nobody in their right mind would argue that Aberdeen are an apex predator in the same way that Real Madrid or PSG are. For every other club, the transfer market is an opportunity to develop players before selling them to a financially stronger club.
If these clubs aren’t interested, it’s because the quality of the player is not high enough.
Jonny Hayes is a prime example. After moving to Celtic for £1.3 million in the summer (and in doing so, making up over 80% of Aberdeen’s transfer revenue over the past five years), he only managed to start eight of a possible 35 games for Aberdeen’s league rivals before unfortunately suffering a broken leg.
Aberdeen’s best player last season is a squad player at best for the team above them in the league. Can Derek McInnes effectively develop players he brings into the club? The jury is most certainly out.
But what about those that come through the club’s youth academy?
Under Derek McInnes, the average age of the Aberdeen squad has not once dropped below 26. This makes them consistently one of the oldest teams in the league.
Over the course of his near five-year tenure at Pittodrie, McInnes has given just five academy kids a proper run in the team (ten starts or more). Three of them, Scott Wright, Frank Ross and Scott McKenna are at the club just now.
The others, Craig Storie and Lawrence Shankland, are currently playing for Brechin City and Ayr United respectively. Perhaps Aberdeen don’t have a great youth system.
However, a crucial function of an academy’s success is whether or not the first team manager is willing to give its best products competitive minutes with the first team. Scottish football is littered with a plethora of players who were hugely talented at 18/19, but then wasted away in the development leagues, and thus saw their growth stunted.
In the 2014/15 season, Aberdeen won the SPFL Development League by eight points. Lawrence Shankland, then 19-years-old, scored 29 goals in just 32 games. He was by far and away the top scorer.
At an age when he was ripe for moving into the first team, McInnes saw fit to give him just two league starts. His path was blocked by David Goodwillie, who at the age of 25, had gone three full seasons without first team football.
As Scott Wright finds a regular first team place blocked first by Jayden Stockley, now by Sam Cosgrove, both McInnes signings from England, you get a horrible sense that history may be repeating itself.
The above hopefully goes some way to show where Aberdeen’s ceiling lies. Their recruitment strategy is limited, their coach doesn’t effectively develop the players he signs, and then largely ignores the academy.
This means that Derek McInnes effectively becomes a chequebook manager. He can afford to sign players who have previously shown they can compete at Scottish Premiership/English League One level. The likes of Stevie May, Gary Mackay-Steven and Mark Reynolds are probably out of the financial reach of most other teams in the league.
As such, the quality of player means that they usually have no trouble swatting aside teams who are less financially able.
However, this also means that he fails against teams with more money to spend on better players (Celtic and Rangers) or teams who don’t play a direct, British style of football (Apollon Limassol, Maribor and Kairat).
The ceiling is thus set.
This season, Aberdeen will likely finish third in the league. They will then lose in the early qualifying rounds of the Europa League. This may prompt them to sign some more British/Irish players. And the cycle continues.
Can they reach higher? Of course. They need a new way of thinking though.