“I’m privileged to work with a great football club and I haven’t given my position a second’s thought. I am confident we can get results and soon. I don’t feel under pressure. I am a fan of Aberdeen and I feel the same disappointment as the fans. We need to work even harder.”
That was the latest somewhat generic response by Dons manager Craig Brown to a rapidly escalating crisis engulfing his club. The once proud club are second from bottom of the league with one win in nine games and only 4 goals scored. Clearly this is not what Brown, the board or the fans had envisaged for the club when the former Scotland manager took over midway through last season. In fact Brown’s record at the start of this season is worse than that of predecessor Mark McGhee’s.
Things seem to be getting worse not better. Defeat at the weekend to Motherwell was just the latest reverse following on from the catastrophic cup exit to second division East Fife at home last midweek which was just the latest in the now annual installment in the “worst result in Aberdeen’s history” competition.
After a number of years of improvement and consolidation under Jimmy Calderwood, Aberdeen are once again facing the spectre of a relegation nightmare.
In truth Calderwood’s ‘success’ was not in keeping with Aberdeen’s recent history. Since the early to mid nineties Aberdeen have flirted with relegation several times and have been saved by league reconstruction and Falkirk’s non compliance with SPL stadia criteria. Calderwood was able to steady the ship for a few years and even managed to lead the Dons through the Europa League Group stages to a last 32 glamour tie v Bayern Munich. However since his departure the club have defaulted back into what is sadly the norm for modern day Aberdeen.
Mark McGhee, his replacement, had a wretched run as boss which included a 9-0 defeat to Celtic and a record European defeat to Sigma Olomuc and it now appears the latest incumbent Craig Brown is also struggling to find a foothold at Pittodrie.
So whats going wrong at Aberdeen?
There is no simple answer but there appears to be significant issues at board room level. The rot seemed to start when the late Dick Donald passed away in 1993 and Stewart Milne came in shortly after. His company Stewart Milne Group was commissioned to build the Richard Donald Stand to replace the old beach end at Pittodrie in the early 90s at cost of £4.5 million, which the club realistically couldn’t afford. This has been followed by countless poor managerial appointments and perhaps more critically their subsequent compensation pay-offs which have cost the club millions. Roy Aitken, Alex Miller, Paul Hegarty, Ebbe Skovdahl, Steve Paterson and Mark McGhee have all tried and failed to revive the club.
There have also been some incredible inept transfer dealings. The Dons inexplicably spent £1million on Oldham midfielder Paul Bernard in 1995. He remains the only player that a Scottish club outside the Old Firm has spent £1 million on. Another classic was the unbelievable deal to sell goal machine Billy Dodds to Dundee Utd and give Utd a further £700,000 in exchange for Robbie Winters.
The outcome of which could be predicted by anyone with even a limited knowledge of Scottish football. Dodds scored a hat-trick on his debut for Utd and went on to score 25 goals that season earning a move to Rangers where he continued to rap in goals in both the SPL and Europe. Winters averaged 10 goals a season with The Dons.
Add all that up and you can see why the club has accrued a debt level of around £12million and left nothing in the tank to spend on the current squad. The only hope the club have of paying that debt off is the proposed move to a new stadium and the sale of Pittodrie. That stadium move however is a few years away at best and in the meantime the club are treading water. Home crowds have plummeted well below the break even mark of around 10,000 (only 3700 turned up against East Fife), no money has been made available to strengthen the squad forcing Craig Brown to scour the loan market and snap up players on freedom of contract to boost the squad. In addition players such as Chris Maguire have been sold with no transfer money reinvested into the squad. This has left Aberdeen with a squad of kids, journeymen and players playing out of position.
In fairness to Brown, he has managed to do a decent job in terms of the the players he has brought in this season. Kari Arnason, Isaac Osbourne and David Gonzalez have all looked solid. The jury is still out on Youl Mawene due to injury and Rory Fallon is expected to provide a bit of steel upfront. The problem Brown has the endemic lethargy and lack of confidence that cripples the club from top to bottom due to the failings and beatings over the last 10 – 15 years. Some players have been moved on but the likes of Considine, Mackie, Foster have all grown up with the beatings and it shows. Brown needs at least another 5 players in the door to replace the battered souls of the aforementioned Mackie, Foster etc but the board will not provide transfer funds to get hose players in.
And while Aberdeen struggle the likes of St Johnstone, St Mirren and Dunfermline are improving markedly to the point that Aberdeen can no longer view these fixtures and say “we’ll get three points there”. In fact its quite the opposite. St Johnstone and St Mirren are now targeting Aberdeen as a three point banker. Furthermore Aberdeen are in no shape for a relegation dogfight. The squad is not as battle hardened as some of their competitors, and on the surface lack the fight and desire to get out of the mess they are in. That said Kari Arnason and Youl Mawene have broken ranks and been in the newspapers in the last few days pretty much lambasting their team mates for their performances and more critically their attitude.
Realistically though, aside from the players getting stuck in more and improving their attitude and application, the only way the fortunes of the club are going to be turned around is via investment; and that investment msut start in the January transfer window. Stewart Milne, worth an estimated personal fortune of £400million, must get his checkbook out in January and give Craig Brown money to spend on quality players. The squad is desperately short of quality and fight and needs significant enhancement. Milne as a businessmen will surely know, to make money you must spend money. By investing, the team will get better, results will improve and the fans will return and Aberdeen may get back into Europe all just in time for the move into a shiny new stadium as a confident secure club.
If Milne fails to act, his dream of the Dons plying their trade in a new stadium will still be realised; only the club will be hosting the likes of Ayr and Morton on a Saturday afternoon in front of 2000 fans……..in the First Division.