Thursday, 3 November 2011

Aberdeen's TV Curse

'Through my T.V, through my T.V, all my problems come..'.

The lyrics are supplied by 90's Britpop forgotten men Mansun (worth a listen by the way), the 'problems' in question come from Aberdeen Football Club. My status as a Don abroad, unfortunately means that I am largely confined to watching Aberdeen in televised matches, with my only other exposure coming through radio and BBC highlights. In recent years there have of course been peaks (1-0 vs rangers, 4-3 and 4-2 vs Celtic), but unfortunately they have been sandwiched between a number of insipid performances. Aberdeen's televised appearances are beginning to carry an air of inevitability, with their last T.V victory (to the best of my knowledge) being the enjoyable 4-2 victory over an admittedly shoddy Hibs side last October.

Sandwiched between that and Monday nights match against St Johnstone include a pair of spirited but ultimately fruitless Old Firm defeats this season, and dour draws against Hamilton and Hearts at the back end of last season. For a Don who uses such televised encounters as attempts to convert his housemates to Scottish Football, the results and performances have not made for comfortable viewing.

A visit to a St Johnstone side currently occupying fourth place in the SPL may be a difficult propoisiton for Craig Brown's men, who will nonetheless by buoyed by encouraging recent performances before the recent Old Firm double header. With Scott Vernon injured and Rory Fallon suspended, the big question for Brown will perhaps be who to start up front, with Mo Chalali having pressed his claim for a start with a hat trick in a behind closed doors friendly against Dundee United this week. Josh Magennis struck twice in the same fixture, and it will potentially be a battle between the two young strikers for a starting spot if Brown opts for 4-5-1. Jamie Langfield made his return to action after a five month lay off in the friendly, but on loan goalkeeper David Gonzalez is likely to retain his place between the sticks.

Saturday, 29 October 2011

Spirited Dons Still Can't Taste Old Firm Victory

Aberdeen 1 - 2 Rangers

Gonzalez, McArdle, Mawene, Considine, Foster, Clark (Magennis, 88), Osbourne, Arnason, Fyvie (Chalali, 79), Fallon, Milsom (Mackie, 24)
Subs Not Used: Brown, Robertson, Megginson, Grimmer.

This post would have had a thoroughly different complexion had the match finished at half time. Or even after 58 minutes. Unfortunately though, it didn't. 2-1 was the final score, and you would have to say that on the balance of play it was a deserved victory for Rangers. Aberdeen looked solid at the back and tenacious in midfield, but lacked creativity and goal threat up front. Two defeats on the bounce is a somewhat illusory statistic for the Dons - in truth, two straight victories have been followed up by consecutive battling displays against the Old Firm, by no means a success but a far cry from the embarrassments of last season. The mistakes need to be cut out, and it would be nice to see Fraser Fyvie and co. being played in their correct positions, but this was still an encouraging enough display. Are things looking up for Craig Brown's Aberdeen? My head says no, my heart, as ever says.. Maybe.

-Lee Miller looks finally to have been replaced. Scott Vernon's goals have been valuable but he lacks the ability to hold the ball up. Rory Fallon's strength and ariel ability seem likely to be an asset to the team, even if he finds goals difficult to come by. The red was unfortunate but I didn't think that there was much in it.

-Kari Arnason is a player. Tenacious, composed, aggressive, skillful and capable of playing a pass - he appears to have it all and is one of the most well rounded players I have seen at the club in years. Getting him tied down to a longer term contract needs to be a priority.

-The teams partnerships in the centre of the park are looking more settled. Considine and Mawene compliment each other well, as do Osbourne and Arnason. It's a shame that the team's wide positions are lacking in any such balance .

- Andrew Considine has improved a lot and now looks to be a vital member of our defence. He had an impressive match at centre back and looks to be forming a good partnership with Youl Mawene.

-Darren Mackie has always been a worthy member of Aberdeen's squad, for his energy and work rate if nothing else. It is impossible to ignore how much he has slowed down since returning from injury though. It would be unfair to make him a scapegoat but his role in the squad needs to be looked at.

-Rory McArdle should not be playing at full back. This was far from an abysmal showing from the Northern Irishman but he quite simply is not quick enough and was beaten time after time for pace. Ryan Jack or Chris Clark should be ahead of him in the pecking order there, particularly if Clark persists in forgetting how to pass a football in his stints in the centre of midfield.

-We need to cut out the silly errors.

-Foster managed a lucky goal (although it was a good hit) but as a team goals look like they are going to be hard to come by. Scott Vernon can be relied upon to weigh in with a few but the rest of the team need to start chipping in.

-The commentators kept banging on about Chalali never having scored a professional goal. We get it.

Sunday, 25 September 2011

What Is The Answer? Does Brown Even Know The Question?

Another Saturday, another desperately uninspired performance from Aberdeen, with a result to match. The Dons 1-0 defeat against Motherwell was so devoid of confidence, verve and flair that it is difficult to see how Craig Brown can turn their fortunes around. Brown is a much respected figure in Scottish football but patience is starting to run out among Aberdeen's supporters, a group who are becoming depressingly accustomed to seeing their team languishing in the lower depths of the SPL table. Sacking Brown is clearly not the answer, at least at this juncture. There is little chance of notoriously tight fisted Stuart Milne shelling out for yet another compensation payment, and even if money was no object there are few obvious candidates to replace the beleaguered Dons boss. There does exist the possibility of Brown walking, but were his tenure at the club to end now it leave a proud career effectively tarnished.

So without the option of a change in management, how can Aberdeen's fortunes change? Even ignoring Tuesday nights embarassing cup reverse against East Fife their start to the season has been utterly dismal. Statistics tell part of the story - eleven goals conceded from 9 matches is hardly shocking, but just four goals scored in the same period (none away from home) clearly is. Bizarrely Aberdeen's defence was a laughing stock last season, epitomized in the 9-0 defeat to Celtic. Brown and Knox seemed to have stabilised it, while sacrificing any attacking thrust in the process. Part of the problem is personnel - Aberdeen's two main creators in Chris Maguire and Sone Aluko have departed without being replaced by players of a similar ilk. When Richard Foster is your most potent attacking threat it becomes clear that something must be done.

A good start would be utilizing the talent at his disposal. Aberdeen are rich in centre backs and central midfielders, yet desperately bare in wide areas - a caveat that has seen the aforementioned Foster playing as a makeshift left winger. A switch to three central defenders may seem an obvious solution. Andrew Considine and Rory McArdle have proved to be an able partnership in the past and the addition of Youl Mawene's experience and reading of the play would compliment them well, and also allow Kari Arnason to move into midfield, where his composure and creativity could be taken full advantage of. In Ryan Jack, Ricky Foster and Chris Clark, Brown also possesses three versatile widemen who are equally capable of playing at full back or in midfield. They would slot easily into a system featuring wing backs. With the likes of Osbourne, Fyvie, Milsom, Arnason and the soon to return Folly Brown has a number of central midfielders to call upon, all possessing relatively different qualities.

The main problem would remain up front. Rory Fallon netted his first goal for the club in midweek but looked ineffective against Motherwell. Scott Vernon had a fantastic first season at the club but has been desperately starved of service this season. Darren Mackie's merits and faults are widely publicised and Brown seems oddly reluctant to use new signing Mohamed Chalali. Unfortunately he is stuck with what he has, but I for one am convinced that with the right service from midfield Vernon is capable of scoring enough goals.

It may seem churlish to advise an experienced football manager on how to set up his team, but something must be done. While Brown's dalliances with 3 man backlines have ended disastrously in the past, the teams increased solidarity this season would make such a change in system easier to implement. The addition of an extra central midfielder would constitute an increase in creativity, theoretically at least.

Friday's televised match against Dunfermline is seen by many as a must win match for Brown. While it would be a risk to experiment, something has clearly got to change if Aberdeen are to return to winning (and scoring) ways.

Tuesday, 30 August 2011

Aberdeen Moves That Never Were

With the summer transfer window set to slam shut in just over 24 hours Aberdeen's transfer activity looks to be firmly over, after a pre-season which has seen the arrivals of no less than seven new faces. Despite this, the most compelling narratives are often formed by transfer sagas that are not seen through to completion. Below are a few of recent memories most notable Aberdeen FC transfer nearly men.

Alan Gow
Such is journeyman forward Gow's propensity for changing clubs that it seems as though Aberdeen are one of the sides that he has not turned out for. A joke perhaps, but one rooted in reality - Gow has appeared for eleven clubs so far in an eleven year career, failing to complete more than three seasons at a single team, and making no more than 17 appearances for any single club in the last four years. No transfer window is complete for Aberdeen fans without an obligatory link with the 28 year old and the ongoing saga has become something of a joke among several quarters of the clubs support. Although Gow possesses good technical ability, his career appears to have been reduced to a series of maybes, amid persistent doubts over his fitness. It is unlikely that he would ever have prospered in a series of uninspired Aberdeen sides, nor aided the clubs fortunes.

Lee Hendrie
It is difficult to look at Lee Hendrie's 16 year career without a certain degree of sympathy. The recipient of 12 England under 21 caps and a respectable five goals, Hendrie made over 250 Premier League appearances for Aston Villa and appeared to have the world at his feet after winning the clubs Young Player of the Season award in 1998, as well as making his full International debut in the same year. At first glance you would be forgiven for assuming that Aberdeen would jump at the chance of signing such a decorated player, but last summer Mark McGhee opted to sign Paul Hartley instead, despite Hendrie impressing during a brief trial period. After a short spell at Bradford Hendrie is now making waves in the Indonesian league for Bandung, a pair of moves that hint at the quality of other offers that he received. Even had he joined Aberdeen it is difficult to see him making a success of himself - Paul Hartley arrived as a somewhat messianic figure and even he left with his tail between his legs, preferring semi retirement as player manager at Alloa to another year with the Dons. It's fair to say that Lee may have dodged a bullet last summer.

Russell Anderson
Former Aberdeen captain and fan favourite Russell Anderson has endured something of a torrid time since joining Roy Keane's Sunderland for £1 million in 2007. Anderson managed just a single league appearance for the Black Cats in an injury hit three years before moving on to Derby County in 2010, where he has found himself in and out of a struggling team. Predictably, in the wake of Anderson's tribulations south of the border there has been much talk of a return to the club where he made his name. In recent years Aberdeen have lacked a mature presence at the back and were rumored to have had a bid accepted for their ex-captain last season. Anderson however has frequently spurned advances from Scottish outfits, and seems to have ambitions of making it in England, however much his International prospects seem to have diminished since leaving Pittodrie. In any case, experienced centre back Youl Mawene arrived at Aberdeen this summer, appearing to curtail any prospect of Anderson returning to his former club - in the near future at least.

Kevin Kyle
Much maligned for his misadventures in England in the colours of Sunderland and Coventry, Kyle was an unexpected success at Kilmarnock in his eighteen months at the club, scoring 16 goals in 43 appearances. As his contract ran down, former Aberdeen boss Mark McGhee went public with his interest in signing the striker on a bosman as a replacement for Middlesborough-bound Lee Miller. After a torturous series of negotiations amid interest from several other SPL clubs, Kyle opted for Aberdeen's SPL rivals Hearts, reuniting him with his former Kilmarnock manager Jim Jeffries. Oddly enough Kyle's decision looks to have worked out rather well for Aberdeen - Scott Vernon was signed instead and had a good debut season for the Dons, scoring 17 goals in 47 appearances despite playing on while carrying an injury towards the end of the season. In contrast, Kyle has had an injury hit time at Hearts, making just 21 appearances and scoring a total of ten goals, with a meager four of them from open play.

James McFadden
Football fans are a notoriously opportunistic breed, which seems the most likely explanation for the rumours linking Scottish international James McFadden with a move to Aberdeen this summer. After a season plagued with injuries he was released following Birmingham's relegation to the Championship, and despite the new season already having kicked off has so far failed to find a new club. McFadden would of course be a fantastic signing for Aberdeen, and has the potential to solve both their problems with creativity and goalscoring. Unfortunate as it is though, the chances of a move to Pittodrie seem bleak at best, with the likelihood being that he would need to take a cut in pay of well over 50% to join up with Craig Brown at Aberdeen. McFadden is a fantastic player, and arguably still has a lot to offer at Premier League level. With Everton desperately short on cash it does not seem outrageous to link him with a move back to Goodison Park, and a reconciliation with former manager David Moyes.

If there is one thing that immediately jumps out from the above names, it is that all of are experiencing something of a downturn in fortunes. Aberdeen realistically cannot sign established, successful players anymore - even McFadden is vastly out of Craig Brown's reach, with more realistic targets likely to be found in the lower reaches of the English league, as well as abroad. If there is one comfort to be taken from the situation, it is that the rest of Scotland is in the same boat - even the Old Firm can barely compete with teams in the Championship, while the rest of the league are left competing with Aberdeen for the pick of football's failures and free agents.

Tuesday, 16 August 2011

Down and Out in Edinburgh

Four matches played. One point. Zero goals scored. Five goals conceded. The stats still do not look good for Aberdeen manager Craig Brown and his under-pressure group of players. By all accounts Hearts were lucky to win as comfortably as they did but is worrying to see at least some form of defensive frailty added to a set of attacking players who have desperately struggled to create chances this season, let alone convert them. A number of triallists are being looked at, including Algerian under 23 international Mohamed Chalali but there is no guarantee that any will be an improvement on the current crop of strikers and some even point to the true problem being a lack of creativity in midfield - a point that I would tend to agree with. Scott Vernon and Darren Mackie have both proved that they can score goals in the SPL (in Mackie's case, with not quite the same level of regularity). They need service in order to put the ball in the back of the net. With injuries mounting things are not looking good, its still early days but Aberdeen need to start getting points on the board in order for confidence to start flowing again. Inverness on Saturday would be a great place to start.

Monday, 8 August 2011

Doom And Gloom

Aberdeen 0 - 1 Celtic

Gonzalez, McArdle, Arnason, Considine, Foster, Pawlett (Paton, 72), Osbourne, Milsom, Magennis (Megginson, 82), Mackie (Low, 87), Vernon

The stats do not make comfortable reading for Aberdeen. Three matches played, no wins, no goals and just a single point, gained in an opening day draw hosting St. Johnstone. At this point last year the Dons had two wins out of three, and were buoyed by the impact of new captain Paul Hartley, who scored a hat trick of penalties on his debut.

There is significantly less to be optimistic about this time around. While Aberdeen's performance on Sunday was solid, showing the grit and defensive solidarity that was at times absent last season, they need to start getting points on the board soon. The dons managed just 3 shots on target, and more worryingly just 38% of the possession. While they were largely able to limit Celtic to long range shots and were unlucky to lose, there was a worrying tendency to squander possession. Robert Milsom impressed after signing a temporary deal last season, but looks to have stagnated. He has decent technique and can pass the ball but lacks the creative spark sorely needed following Chris Maguire's departure, and often requires more space and time on the ball than can be afforded against the top teams. Darren Mackie has added plenty of endeavor since his return from injury, but lacks the vision and skill of Maguire - who is still yet to be adequately replaced.

Of course there are hopeful signs for Aberdeen - most obviously the defence. Parallels with the 9-0 humbling against Celtic last season are obvious, and while a defeat is not an ideal result Aberdeen rarely looked like conceding on Sunday and were, on the whole very well organized. Kari Arnason, only playing at centre back due to Youl Mawene's injury looked a class above, and helped Andrew Considine to one of his better performances in recent memory. Craig Brown has stated that he sees Arnason as playing in midfield for the Dons, but on the strength of yesterday's fine performance he could easily slot in at the back when required. Rory McArdle was also out of position at right back but had a good game, managing to keep Joe Ledley very quiet and rarely looking exposed.

It seems unfair to blame new captain Ricky Foster for the defeat on the back of one error, but it was his dallying on the ball that handed Celtic their best chance of the match, one that was ultimately converted. Foster looked uncomfortable at left back, often going missing and leaving Kris Commons unmarked. His pace is a valuable asset but he simply isn't enough without being coupled with an able footballing brain. His distribution has improved, and now needs to be allied with a greater positional sense.

Improvement is clearly needed, but with an away clash at Hearts looming it will need to be more rapid than Craig Brown may have anticipated. The defence, for now is adequate. Creativity though is sorely needed, and unless the likes of Pawlett, Milsom and Vernon hit top form, it is looking like a barren few weeks for the Dons.

Tuesday, 26 July 2011

Opening Day Anticlimax

Despite much in the way of pre-season optimism at Pittodrie it was ultimately disappointment for Aberdeen in their home fixture against St Johnstone, as the ten man Dons slumped to a 0-0 draw. Despite the less than thrilling result there were some reasons for positivity from Craig Brown's men, who dominated the proceedings.

Despite hints in pre-season that he would revert to a 3-5-2 formation, the Aberdeen boss reverted to a more familiar 4-4-2 shape with new captain Richard Foster occupying the left hand side of defence and Darren Mackie partnering Scott Vernon up front. Encouragingly for Dons fans, Fraser Fyvie started in midfield after a long lay off last season and looked bright, coming desperately close to scoring with a lofted cross shot. Richard Foster also came close with a long range banana shot and a free kick, but the fact that much of the teams adventurous play was coming from their much maligned left back will not dissuade many fans fears that their team is lacking in flair. The need for reinforcements up front was also reinforced by the misadventures of Darren Mackie and Josh Magennis, both of whom missed gilt edged chances despite looking industrious. Ryan Jack's red card will also come as a blow, with few obvious replacements at right back. Refreshingly though it came not due to stupidity or petulance but enthusiasm, with Jack earning a straight red for a late lunge on Murray Davidson.

While a clean sheet is an encouraging sign for a team plagued by defensive malaise last season, the need for reinforcements up front has been emphasized by their bluntness up front. While Scott Vernon is not yet fully fit, Darren Mackie's limitations are well publicized and Craig Brown's other options are all very raw.

A draw is not the end of the world, but the Dons need to start getting points on the board with difficult fixtures against the Old Firm looming. This Saturday's trip to St Mirren would be an excellent place to start.

Friday, 22 July 2011

Aberdeen FC: Season Preview 2011/2012

While the kick-off of the new SPL season seems to come around sooner every year, this time around it is genuinely the case as the first round of new fixtures is played on the baffling early date of July 22nd. Whatever your feelings on the early kick off, it is great to have some competitive football to watch again, particularly with the promise of a half-decent Aberdeen side this season. My optimism is cautious - lest we forget the first day thumping of Hamilton last season that brought about jubilant scenes among Dons fans. The fact that that fixture acted as a precursor for one of the most depressing and embarassing seasons in living memory means that any success in the early stages this time around will be laced with pessimism. Nevertheless, in Craig Brown we have a gaffer with a wealth of experience who did a good job steadying the ship last season. Whether he can kick on and bring Aberdeen the top six finish that they should be aiming for is another question.

Despite the unfortunate illness suffered by number one shot stopper Jamie Langfield, Aberdeen's last line of defense seems to be in a relatively healthy state. With experienced International goalkeeper David Gonzalez coming in on loan from Manchester City and former Blackburn reserve Jason Brown joining on a free, there should be a healthy amount of competition between the sticks even before Langfield's return. Both Gonzalez and Brown are untested at SPL level but their pedigree suggests that they should both be accomplished keepers for Aberdeen.

Arguably the weakest area of Aberdeen's side last year was the defense, and with relatively few new signings you could be forgiven for being pessimistic about signs of improvement. Nevertheless, Youl Mawene looks to be a good signing and will bring some much needed experience to the centre of defence, aiding Rory McArdle and Andrew Considine who have both looked impressive at times, if inconsistent during their respective Dons careers. 19 year old Irishman Joe Shaughnessy has made just one appearance for the Dons as yet, but has come into the first team this season and should provide cover. Of course this is without mentioning Kari Arnason, who signed on a free from Plymouth this month is currently lacking in match fitness but could turn out in a number of positions, one of them being centre back.

At full back Aberdeen's squad yet again looks decidedly more uncertain, with new captain Richard Foster seeming the only certain incumbent of the position. Youngsters Clark Robertson and Ryan Jack have turned out there as well as versatile new signing Chris Clark. While Craig Brown has spoken of his hope of turning Steven Smith's loan deal into a permanent one, the Norwich City left back now looks to be out of the clubs price range.

Despite there seeming to be a dearth of options at either side, this may not be as big a problem as it first seems if Craig Brown is to opt for a somewhat unusual 3-5-2 formation. The set-up was trialed in the shambolic 4-1 cup reverse against Celtic last season, and despite that setback Brown has persisted with a back three in pre-season and it would be no surprise if the Dons lined up in that style on Saturday.

As with at the back, Aberdeen boast comparative riches in the centre of midfield when compared to out wide. While the departure of Sone Aluko has been offset by the signing of Chris Clark, the versatile midfielder may be required in defence, leaving the squad looking decidedly bare on the wings. Peter Pawlett at least looks to be putting his injury woes behind him, and impressed against Villarreal on Tuesday night. However, along with Chris Clark and Ryan Jack he appears one of very few options in his position and should Craig Brown choose to play with wingers he will undoubtedly be key to Aberdeen's success. Strikers Darren Mackie, Michael Paton and Josh Magennis have all played on the wing at various points, but all will be hoping that their eventual position lies up front.

The side looks comparitively well stocked in the centre of midfield. One of last seasons few success stories Robert Milsom has signed a two year deal and should compete for a place with summer signing Isaac Osbourne and forgotten man Yoan Folly who should be back in the side once he returns to full fitness. Of course this is without mentioning young starlet Fraser Fyvie, who is also returning to the first team after a long lay off, as well as Ryan Jack who can play in the centre as well as out wide. With Nicky Low and the highly rated youngster Jack Grimmer waiting in the wings, Aberdeen should have few worries in the centre of the pitch. Indeed, I would not be surprised were Craig Brown to line his side up with three in the middle, whether that be in a 4-3-3 or a 3-5-2 shape.

Up Front
Aside from last seasons top scorer Scott Vernon, Aberdeen's striking situation seems uncertain. With a replacement for Chris Maguire looking unlikely his reinforcements may be limited the oft-pilloried Darren Mackie and the raw trio of Michael Paton, Josh Magennis and Mitchel Megginson. With none of them a regular scorer at SPL level, the goalscoring burden on Scott Vernon may be rather large, and one of them may need to step up to the plate. Darren Mackie has recently pledged to score 100 goals for Aberdeen, and however unlikely that seems he may be the most viable option. Already off the mark in the pre-season he has made regular appearances including one as captain, and may be the man to partner Vernon.

While there is some cautious optimism on my side, it is difficult to deny the holes in the Dons squad. While full back has been strengthened since last seasons pre-season of madness, the squad looks weaker out wide and up front and seems sorely lacking in goal threat. It may be up to the youngsters to come in and show their often underachieving seniors how its done - but then I say that every year...

My Prediction: A cautious 6th Place

Wednesday, 6 July 2011

Richard Foster Named New Dons Skipper

Craig Brown has this afternoon confirmed that Richard Foster will captain Aberdeen in the forthcoming 2010/2011 season. Foster, who has made 212 league appearances in a seven year spell at the club, spent last season on loan at Rangers, where he made 15 league appearances. Foster's stint at Ibrox could make him a divisive choice among some fans, but it is difficult to see any better options among the senior Dons players. Striker Darren Mackie wore the armband for the 3-1 friendly victory over Brechin on Friday night, but Foster's appointment looks to be a confirmation that the versatile full back will play a key role for Aberdeen in the coming season. As of yet no Vice-Captain has been announced but Andrew Considine and Darren Mackie seem the most likely options.

Thursday, 30 June 2011

Maguire On His Way

After weeks of protracted negotiations Derby County and Aberdeen have finally settled on a compensation fee for the 22 year old forward Chris Maguire. Maguire, who has earned two full Scottish caps, was in the final year of his contract and his departure from the club has seemed inevitable for much of a disappointing year for the Dons, where Maguire was one of the few bright sparks contributing 12 goals and 9 assists despite often being deployed out wide. The fee for Maguire looks to be around £350-400k, and has been awarded to Aberdeen for their crucial role in the players development.

While Maguire's departure certainly leaves a gaping hole in the Aberdeen squad, Craig Brown has claimed that a replacement is not a necessity, although if the right player becomes available he could make a move.

Wednesday, 29 June 2011

Three In For The Dons

Aberdeen are expected to announce the signing of three new players later today, goalkeeper David Gonzalez Gilardo from Manchester City on a six month loan deal, as well as midfielders Chris Clark and Isaac Osbourne who sign on free transfers from Plymouth and Coventry respectively. Clark in particular will be a familiar face for Dons fans, having spent 11 years at the club from 1997 to 2008, before earning a £150,000 move to Plymouth Argle.

While Kilmarnock had been considered favourites to resign Clark, the 30 year old midfielder has opted to rejoin the Dons. Clark is a versatile player, who has turned out on either side of midfield or at full back throughout his career. It is unclear where he will slot in at Pittodrie, but he could be seen as a replacement for Nigerian left winger Sone Aluko who is expected to leave this summer. Ironically enough Aluko took on Clark's number 11 shirt when he originally left for Plymouth, and Clark could now reclaim it on his return to the club.

Isaac Osbourne, brother of former Aston Villa midfielder Isaiah Osbourne signs after spending weeks at the club on trial, presumably to convince them of his fitness after an injury plagued career in which he has made just 122 senior appearances. Osbourne, primarily a central midfielder was released by Coventry City at the end of last season and could be seen as a replacement for former Dons captain Paul Hartley.

Gonzalez has arguably the greatest pedigree of the three, the 28 year old goalkeeper having made two international appearances for Columbia. Although he spent time on loan at Leeds at the tail end of last season, he failed to make a first team appearance despite impressing the coaching staff at the club with his professionalism. Gonzalez is likely to be a short time replacement for first choice goalkeeper Jamie Langfield, who looks to miss the start of the season while recovering from a seizure.

Friday, 17 June 2011

Brown on the Lookout

With last seasons 20 English Premier League clubs announcing the players that they have chosen to release, Craig Brown will no doubt have tilted his gaze south of the border. Although players at the high end of spectrum such as Jonathon Woodgate, James McFadden and Owen Hargreaves are clearly out of the Dons reach, there are a number of interesting names on the list that while not obviously unattainable, would go some way towards strengthening last seasons heavily weakened Aberdeen side.

Despite the signing of experienced Frenchman Youl Mawene, the Aberdeen backline is still in sore need of bolstering, with experienced reinforcements needed to supplement the likes of Andrew Considine and Rory McArdle. Despite often being lambasted for his poor performances for the Scottish National Team, Steven Caldwell, formerly of Wigan would be an ambitious capture. Boasting years of experience at the highest level, Caldwell has been linked with former club Leeds United and would most likely be out of Aberdeen's financial reach.

A more realistic contender would be Manchester City's versatile full back Javan Vidal. Primarily a right sided full back, the Manchester born 22 year old impressed during a year on loan at Pittodrie in 2009, making 13 league appearances. Most recently turning out for English League Two side Chesterfield, Vidal is sure to be on Craig Brown's radar.

While Brown himself has admitted that a replacement for Derby County bound forward Chris Maguire is not a priority, he has said that if the right player becomes available it would be a possibility. 21 year old English striker Kieran Agard was released yesterday by Everton and has SPL experience after a brief loan spell at Kilmarnock last season. While he is seriously unproven having made only 9 senior appearances in his brief career, Agard could be seen as the man to provided much needed competition for places up front.

Perhaps the most pressing concern for Aberdeen is the need for a second goalkeeper, with Jamie Langfield having recently suffered a seizure and likely to be sidelined until September. Perpetually out on loan Scottish goalkeeper Iain Turner would be an able deputy and would probably be able to compete with Langfield for the number one jersey, though it would most likely be too costly to sign him and retain Langfield. 29 year old Welsh goalkeeper Jason Brown would may be a more affordable target. Released by Blackburn he has sizable experience as an understudy and as a player coming into the prime of his career would see a move to Aberdeen as an opportunity to earn a regular starting berth.

While many would see trawling through players deemed replaceable at Premier League sides as a waste of time, the successful January acquisition of Robert Milsom on a free from Fulham has shown that there is quality to be found among players found wanting at the highest level.

Tuesday, 7 June 2011

Why I Love Darren Mackie

Every team needs a Darren Mackie. While the Inverurie born striker's raw footballing ability is perhaps questionable, his commitment to Aberdeen Football Club is not up for debate. A brief loan spell at nearby Inverness aside, Mackie has spent his entire footballing career at Pittodrie, scoring 56 goals in 294 league appearances. Despite this relatively modest strike rate, Mackie is able to boast the title of Aberdeen's all time leading SPL goalscorer, although this is a statistic borne perhaps more from lack of competition than anything else.

Despite this distinguished accolade, Mackie is often a much maligned figure among Aberdeen fans, with his regular contract extensions being greeted by howls of derision. To be fiar to the naysayers, Mackie is far from the most elegant of strikers. His first touch has more in common with a pass and his attempts to get the ball under control can be as frustrating as they are endearing. However, despite lacking one of the fundamental requirements of a top level footballer, Mackie is not without his talents. Although his all too frequent injuries have taken their toll, he is far from slow and never stops running. He is as enthusiastic as a puppy and never shies away from a challenge, possessing an aggressive streak that belies his modest physique. In short - Mackie is a workhorse who would run through brick walls for his beloved Aberdeen.

The bottom line is that if all players had Darren Mackie's attitude to the game then football would be a better sport, particularly for fans of the more modest clubs such as Aberdeen. It's true that Mackie has most likely never been the subject of too many big money transfers, but given his many spells on the sidelines were he cut of a different cloth he would have angled for a transfer a long time ago. How many other players have managed to break the ten goal season barrier for us more than once? And from those who have managed it how many have stayed, and how many have failed to resist the bright lights of the English Championship (I'm looking at you Lee Miller, lavish transfer fee or not!)

Whether he manages to recapture his best form or not, I think that Darren is an example to follow for some of our younger stars, at least if we want them to remain loyal to Aberdeen. He may not be the most fashionable of players but he has provided the Aberdeen faithful with countless happy memories over his career. How many other players in the recent past can share in that sentiment?

Get well soon Dazzler.

Friday, 3 June 2011

Aberdeen in New Signing Shocker!

Craig Brown shocked the Aberdeen faithful this morning by providing them with exactly what many have been clamouring for since the end of the season - the signing of an experienced centre back, Youl Mawene, a 31 year old Frenchman who has had spells at Lens, Derby County and Preston North End and was recently released from Greek side Panserraikos. It is unclear whether Mawene will take over as the new Dons captain but he certainly fills the gap in defence left by the likely departure of Zander Diamond at the end of his contract. Craig Brown's final signing at Preston before his sacking, Mawene turned out 174 times for the Lilywhites in a six year spell at Deepdale and certainly seems an impressive capture for Aberdeen in what had previously promised to be a frustrating pre season.

Friday, 27 May 2011

Aberdeen FC Season Review: 2010/2011

It is fair to say that the 2010/2011 season has been a resolutely disastrous one for Aberdeen Football Club, with the wreckage including a manager, a captain (and his vice captain) and several first team players - not to mention a healthy portion of dignity. A resounding 4-0 victory over Hamilton on the opening day ultimately seems to have been more a false dawn than anything else as the team have seemed to plumb new depths with every week. While the appointment of Craig Brown as manager in December brought a brief resurgence, the club soon reverted to type, staggering over the finish line in 9th place. With money in short supply in the SPL and Brown inheriting a team lacking in confidence, personality and most importantly ability, the magnitude of the task on his hands must not be underestimated.

The Managers:

Mark McGhee - McGhee's reign was in hindsight a disaster from start to finish, and probably should have ended long before it actually did. Despite making a few decent signings in the close season he was hamstrung by his bizarre refusal to sign any full backs, leaving the team reliant on playing centre backs out of position. During a shameful four month spell McGhee demonstrated a lack of tactical nous, motivational skills and media handling ability. The good times were few and far between and I for one was delighted to see the back of him, Aberdeen legend or not.

Craig Brown - Undoubtedly an upgrade on his predecessor, it will be difficult to judge Brown fairly until he has had a full pre season under his belt. Off the field he handled affairs with ten times more grace, class and politeness than McGhee ever seemed capable of. On the field, a brief initial improvement aside it was more of the same unfortunately. The team struggled for goals, inspiration and defensive stability and could have easily been dragged into more of a relegation battle than they eventually were. For the most part Brown's signings were a success, while his tactics looked hit and miss - the sides capitulation in the first semi against Celtic could be attributed in part to Brown's willingness to tinker with a winning formation. At the moment I am happy with Brown, but there can be no more excuses come the start of next season.

Player of the Season: Scott Vernon
Despite not being subject to a great deal of competition from the rest of the squad, Vernon is a worthy winner. Arriving without the pedigree of more notable recent signings he has got on with it from day one, growing gradually into the most effective striker I have seen at Pittodrie in the last few years. Not blessed with great pace, strength or ariel ability Vernon's main attribute is his ability to hold the ball and bring others into play, as well as his shrewd off the ball movement and work rate. Despite having to play injured for a spell and missing the tail end of the season Vernon finished with a respectable total of 14 goals and should come back even stronger next term.

Young Player of the Season: Ryan Jack
There is perhaps even less competition for this award, but again Jack is a more than worthy winner. Coming into the side this season without a first team appearance to his name, the 19 year old has grown into a vital member of the Aberdeen squad, earning plaudits for his energetic midfield displays as well as his versatility. Despite having to turn out at full back earlier in the season he has never looked out of his depth and has put some of the more senior members of the squad to shame.

Disappointment of the Season:
Where to start with this one, in truth I could probably write an entire article on the subject. Could it be Zander Diamond alienating ever quarter of the Aberdeen support? Michael Paton forgetting how to play football? Or perhaps the shambolic swap that saw Rangers rob us blind with an inexplicable swap deal that saw us lose our own full back in exchange for a perma-crocked striker that we really didn't need. All of those were awful, yes... but this season there can only be one winner:
Celtic 9-0 Aberdeen, 6th November 2010
I don't think I even need to provide an explanation - simply the most embarassing day in all the years that I have supported Aberdeen F.C. Truly awful, and the moment that I realized that McGhee had to go.

Signing of the Season: Scott Vernon (Free Transfer from Colchester United)
Oddly enough, Mark McGhee's business in the transfer market last summer was fairly decent. Hartley was perhaps overhyped but carried us through the opening months of the season and Yoan Folly looked a solid, no frills acquisition. But given that I have already named him as my Aberdeen Player of the Season, this award has to go to Scott Vernon. His arrival on a free from Colchester United hardly set the pulse racing but he has looked a very solid striker, scoring some important goals and working very hard for the team.

Worst Signing of the Season: Nikola Vujadinovic (Loan from Udinese)
Despite arriving with arguably the greatest pedigree of any of Aberdeen's close season captures (bar Hartley), the Montanegrin defender was an unmitigated disaster. Although he possessed decent ball skills, Vujadinovic quite simply could not defend. It is a mystery to me how he was ever worth £1 million.

Goal of the Season: Rory McArdle vs St Mirren, 12th March 2011
Any who were lucky enough to see McArdle's scrappy final minute effort would testify that it would be fortunate to find its way onto any conventional Goal of the Season lists. Despite this, no Aberdeen goal this season has come to close to matching the euphoria I felt when the Northern Irishman hammered the ball home in the final moments of stoppage time. Up until that point it had been business as usual for the Dons, outplayed by an inferior opponent and heading for yet another embarassing cup exit. McArdle's goal allowed me to believe, however briefly that this season would be different...

Game of the Season: Aberdeen 4-0 Hamilton, 14th August 2010
There isn't really another candidate, as an Aberdeen supporter our opening day demolition of a poor Hamilton side had it all. A hat trick from out new captain, a clean sheet and most importantly three points on the board. There could have been no better way to start the season, and it's unfortunate that what followed was such an appalling travesty.

The Future:
A revamp is obviously needed at Aberdeen, but then the same could have been said for the last three or four seasons. The squad is in need to reinforcements in virtually every important area, without the budget to do so adequately. All signs point to a long and hard pre-season for Craig Brown, with the departure of Paul Hartley hastening the search for a new captain. There are positives of course - Fyvie, Mackie and Folly are all due to return from long lays offs - Fyvie actually appeared in the final two matches of the season - and while it seems a cliche to say it, they will be like new signings and will strengthen the side in vital areas. The last few seasons have also brought renewed belief in the clubs youth development system and the likes of Jack Grimmer, Clark Robertson and Mitchell Megginson to name but three will no doubt play a greater role in the first team picture next season. The objective is clear - for a club of Aberdeen's stature a place in the top six of the SPL should be the absolute minimum, and if there is any manager in Scottish football to deliver this then I believe it is Craig Brown.
Stand Free.

Monday, 23 May 2011

2010/2011 Season Review

Those looking back over my postings on this Blog may notice that it has been some time since my last entry. The reasons for this are largely concerned with the huge workload that I have had over the last two months or so, as well as my general disillusionment with Aberdeen's frankly embarassing end of season collapse. It's an unhappy coincidence that my return to blogging coincides with the end of the football season but I can promise you that I will be on hand to meticulously analyse the Don's no doubt captivating transfer activity over the coming months.

Across Europe it has been an undoubtedly thrilling season. From Manchester United finally knocking Liverpool off their perch to AC Milan ending a seven year spell without winning Serie A, to the conflict between Barcelona and Real Madrid across three fronts. Even leagues such as the Bundesliga and the Portuguese Primeira Liga where the title winners have never really been in doubt, have produced truly remarkable teams such as Andre Villas-Boas' FC Porto unbeatables and Jurgen Klopp's relentlessly efficient Borussia Dortmund side. I'm not going to pretend to be overly qualified to comment on European Football as a whole, but nevertheless, below is a summary of my thoughts on a season that as of last weekend is all but finished. It's worth remembering that my comments are entirely based on the matches that I have been able to watch, but even so, if you disagree with any of my choices feel free to let me know, and don't forget to tell me who you would have chosen instead.

While it would have been fun to try to crowbar Aberdeen into my review, realistically we have had an abysmal season and do not merit any inclusion in any sort of European Football Season Review. Rest assured though, a review of Aberdeen's season is on its way so watch this space!

Team of the Season: FC Porto
As much as we all like to see a tightly contested league, sometimes it is equally engrossing watching one team run away with it in spectacular fashion. FC Porto's season has been the archetypal example of such a phenomena, with a simply incredible record of 27 wins from 30 matches, with the other three being drawn. Andre Villas-Boas' men have lost just one match in all competitions, and took home the Europa League last week after defeating Braga in the final, as well as finding success in the Portuguese Cup. Not far off the perfect season, it remains to be seen if Villas-Boas will be able to repeat his mentor Jose Mourinho's Champions League success next season.

Manager of the season: Sir Alex Ferguson (Manchester United)
Regardless of whether he can taste Champions League victory this weekend it has been a truly remarkable season for Sir Alex Ferguson. Written off by many at various stages of the year he has finally managed to earn a record breaking 19th league title for the club, the 12th under his managership. Despite rarely looking fully convincing, with a distinctly average away record Ferguson has managed to guide a squad that few would call one of United's best to a title that back in September looked beyond them. A third Champions League victory would be the icing on the cake for one of football's all time greats.

Player of the season: Edinson Cavani (Napoli)
Given his relatively inauspicious world cup where he was largely overshadowed by strike partners Luis Suarez and Diego Forlan, I would have scoffed had I been told that ten months on I would be choosing him as my player of the season. It is true that other players have scored more goals than Cavani, but it is rare that a player has been so integral to his teams success as the Uruguayan has been to the Azzuri's as they have qualified for the Champions League for the first time since Diego Maradona was starring up front for them. Given that Cavani also hails from South America the comparisons would be obvious, yet Cavani is actually arguably a more complete striker than the Argentinian legend. Capable of scoring from anywhere in and around the box, he is tall, strong, quick and possesses lethal off the ball movement and formidable ariel ability. Cavani's 26 Serie A goals have made him a hot commodity in European football and despite recently signing a new five year deal it may be a struggle for Napoli to hold onto him.

Young player of the season: Jack Wilshere (Arsenal)
It is uncommon to see a player ascend to first team football with the class and maturity that Jack Wilshere has shown this season. Far from bursting onto the scene in Wayne Rooneyesque fashion, Wilshere's rise has been a steady one, first impressing on loan at Bolton last season before gradually becoming an integral cog in Arsenal's midfield engine this year. Along the way 19 year old Wilshere has also starred at International level and can now boast a guaranteed place in England's starting XI having earned four caps over the course of the season.

Disappointment of the season: Mario Balotelli (Manchester City)
It is a sad fact that in his debut season in English football, the £24 million rated 20 year old has become more synonymous for his performances off the pitch than on it. Despite appearing in just 15 league matches for Manchester City Balotelli has never been far from the headlines, most of which concerning his penchant for outspoken quotes. Even on the pitch Balotelli has been far from distinguished, often looking ill-disciplined and unhappy. I am certain I'm not the only one who hopes that next season he can live up to his undeniable talent.

Signing of the season: Mesut Ozil (Real Madrid, £13 million approx)
Much coveted after his fantastic performances at the 2010 World Cup, Jose Mourinho was undoubtedly the envy of many top class managers when he swooped to capture the German midfielder last summer. Since arriving at the Bernabeau Ozil has been quietly efficient rather than spectacular, but has emerged as one of Real's most important players, occupying the space between midfield attack. With 10 goals and 18 assists it has been a productive season for Ozil, and at just 22 years old he looks set to improve.

Worst Signing of the season: Joe Cole (Liverpool, free transfer)
It may seem churlish to name a free transfer as the worst signing of the season, but if reports of Cole's bumper salary and signing on fee are to be believed then has cost Liverpool a fair sum already, just one year into a four year deal. In a stop start season hit by injury and suspension, Cole has really struggled to get going and has never looked like more than a shadow of his former self, managing just two goals. A sending off and a missed penalty in his first three Liverpool games set the tone for what has been a truly disastrous season for the ex-England international. After having started just once under Kenny Dalglish it remains to be seen if he has any future at Anfield, with few clubs likely to be willing to take on his mammoth wages.

Goal of the season: Dimitar Berbatov (Manchester United) Vs Blackburn Rovers, 26th November
While the popular choice seems to be Wayne Rooney's overheard kick against Manchester City, my vote goes to the third of Berbatov's five goals against Blackburn in November. The goal in question was an immaculate team move, beginning with Berbatov himself deep inside his own half before before being completed on the edge of Blackburn's penalty area with an assured finish from the Bulgarian.

Game of the season: Barcelona 5-0 Real Madrid, 29th November
There have perhaps been other matches that have set the pulse racing more than Barcelona's demolition of arch rivals Real Madrid in November, but few can match the season's first Clasico for sheer footballing talent. Real Madrid were utterly taken apart by a superb Barcelona team in a flawless display of patient, elegant attacking football. What makes the victory all the more remarkable is the quality of the Real Madrid team in question; While they were abject on the day and never truly challenged Barca for the La Liga title, they amassed an impressive total of 92 points and defeated the Catalans this year in the final of the Copa Del Ray. This Barcelona side is being talked of as one of the greatest ever, and on the strength of this incredible display it is not difficult to see why.

My Team of the Season:

Edwin van der Sar – Has made a wise decision to bow out in what is arguably his finest hour.
Dani Alves – His forays down the right hand side are vital to Barcelona’s success
Nemanja Vidic – The Serb has ascended to the role of Manchester United captain with aplomb.
Thiago Silva – A colossus, and a provider of much needed consistency in the Milan backline.
Leighton Baines – Provides a real goal threat as well as defensive stability.
Nigel de Jong – Quietly keeps Man City’s star studded midfield ticking over.
Daniele de Rossi – The definition of an ‘all action midfielder’, there is little that de Rossi cannot do.
Xavi Hernandez – Simply the best passer of the ball in the world.
Lionel Messi – As with Xavi, little explanation is needed. A wonderful footballer.
Edinson Cavani – An effortless goalscorer more than capable of leading the line.
Cristiano Ronaldo – Pace, power and an incredible goal threat, if perhaps not the team player that he could be.

Victor Valdes
Gerard Pique
Javier Zanetti
Jack Wilshere
Mesut Ozil
Luis Suarez
Samuel Eto’o

Saturday, 2 April 2011

Motherwell Vs Aberdeen: Match Preview

Kick Off: 3pm

With Aberdeen’s top six aspirations all but ended for the season, most of their remaining league fixtures will probably be surrounding by a certain degree of malaise. Nevertheless, with a cup semi at Celtic on the horizon Craig Brown will be anxious to build up some momentum ahead of the clash with a team that Aberdeen have failed to beat in five attempts this season. Brown’s old side Motherwell will be anxious to get one over their former boss and will provide Aberdeen with stern opposition, particularly with home advantage on their side.

After three weeks without a fixture Aberdeen have a few new injury worries to contend with. David McNamee is a major doubt with a hamstring strain, Ryan Jack is out with tonsilitis and Zander Diamond is suspended. Dons skipper Paul Hartley has joined their list of long term absentees, along with Fraser Fyvie, Darren Mackie and Yoan Folly. All will probably miss the rest of the season. Derek Young is the obvious choice to replace Hartley alongside Rob Milsom in the centre of midfield (unless he is needed at right back) – what he sometimes lacks in technical ability he more than makes up for in experience and work rate. With Chris Maguire and Scott Vernon both finding the net in Aberdeen's previous fixture, Nick Blackman will have a tough task on his hands finding a place in the starting XI against a Motherwell side that he scored ten goals as a part of during the first half of this season. Interestingly right back Maurice Ross, who spent a brief period with Aberdeen last season, has been drafted into the Motherwell squad and could make his debut after signing on a short term deal from Beijing Guoan.

While it is difficult to drum up enthusiasm for what ultimately will be another fruitless league season for Aberdeen, the remaining fixtures are vital for assessing just how much of an effect Craig Brown has truly had on an underachieving squad. While he had an unquestionably fantastic start, the wins have begun to dry up in recent weeks and the spectre of Mark McGhee’s reign of terror has not yet been fully banished. Brown is a fantastic manager and a strong end to this season would cement my belief that he can lead this Aberdeen team to the league position that its quality arguably merits.

Sunday, 27 March 2011

Brazil 2 - 0 Scotland

Brazil: Cesar, Alves, Lucio, Silva, Santos, Lucas Leiva (Sandro, 86), Elano (Elias, 82), Ramires, Jadson (Lucas Rodriguez, 72), Neymar (Renato Augusto, 89), Leandro (Oliveira, 78)

Scotland:McGregor, Hutton, G. Caldwell, Berra (Wilson, 73), Crainey, Adam (Snodgrass, 78), Brown, Morrison (Cowie, 90), McArthur (Bannan, 56), Whittaker (Commons, 64), Miller (Mackail-Smith, 87)

Sometimes it's fun to sit back, relax and enjoy an utterly inconsequential game of football. We all know that Scotland are nowhere near as good as Brazil, we all knew that they would get beaten today and most of us probably had a good idea of the sort of unambitious football that Scotland would utilise. Of course none of this stopped me watching Sunday afternoons match, and largely enjoying it, despite the predictable nature of the result.

Scotland were pretty abject throughout, looking woeful and shorn of ideas both with and without the ball. The plan seemed to be to get the ball to Charlie Adam - playing in a deep lying central position - as quickly as possible, with Adam looking to ping balls out to the wings. Sadly, one excellent free kick delivery aside the Blackpool midfielder had a poor match, often looking to do much and misplacing several passes. For a player playing just in front of the back four he also seemed to lack any defensive instinct whatsoever and eventually gave away the penalty that led to Brazil's second goal. Craig Levein chose two fairly conservative wide players in Scott Brown and Steven Whittaker, with much of the former's attacking instinct having been curbed in his time at Celtic. The plan seemed to be for them to get up down the pitch, providing an attacking outlet while still tracking Brazil's wide man - Jadson and the brilliant Neymar. Sadly neither provided much in the way of each attacking intent or defensive solidarity, with Brown in particular looking lost throughout and failing to get forward and support an increasingly isolated Kenny Miller.

James Morrison and James McArthur looked like strangers playing in the centre of midfield and both put in undistinguished performances. Morrison probably looked the most exciting Scottish player of the day (albeit in very brief instances) but lacked time on the ball and struggled to play the right passes. Perhaps surprisingly, the team looked a lot more cohesive after Barry Bannan came on for McArthur. Bannan is clearly a cracking young talent, looking good on the ball as well as intelligent without it. I would like to see him starting alongside Charlie Adam in the centre of Scotland's midfield. The defence put in an archetypal 'blood and guts' performance, never saying die but looking outclassed by a below par Brazilian frontline. Gary Caldwell's spectacular double block in the second half was a particular highlight.

Levein was quick to remind the public post-match that Scotland are missing a lot of players, but this was a still a poor performance. Scotland are obviously technically inferior to Brazil but also seemed to lack both the off the ball movement and work rate of their South American counterparts. More importantly, they often struggled to string more than two passes together, leading to ironic cheers during a brief spell of second half possession. There were encouraging signs - Barry Bannan's impressive cameo for one - but they were few and far between, at least from where I was sitting.

On a solely personal level I was pretty gutted that Chris Maguire didn't come on, I am obviously ridiculously biased but I still think he deserved at least a few minutes at the end. Maybe next time - as long as he keeps putting the performances in for the Dons of course!

Friday, 25 March 2011

What Next for Walter Smith?

Walter Smith has hit the headlines this week after clinching the Scottish League Cup, his 20th trophy as Rangers manager. It has been no secret that Smith will leave Rangers in the summer, but what seems to have often been lost in the shuffle is that he plans to remain in management after his four year tenure at Ibrox comes to an end. Even Smith's wikipedia page suggests that the Rangers legend will be retiring in the summer but comments made by the Scottish manager in November suggest that this is not the case, with Smith apparently planning to remain in football in some capacity.

The big question in any case seems to be, if not Rangers, where else? Of his 30 year management career Smith has spent 11 years with the Glasgow club and a further 11 years in various roles within the Scottish National team's structure. Just four years have been spent South of the border, during a relatively unsuccessful spell at Everton and a brief stint as Sir Alex Ferguson's assistant at Manchester United. Indeed, Smith's departure from Rangers could be born more of a desire to prove his managerial credentials elsewhere than anything else.

As with many other elder statesmen of the game, an international role seems likely and would possibly sate his need for the game without bringing the day to day to pressures of club management. Sadly Smith's inauspicious abandonment of the Scottish National Team in favor of a return to Rangers may have burned bridges with the Scottish FA and current manager Craig Levein seems to have the support of the men in charge, if not perhaps all of the fans. If Smith's unhappy spell at Everton has put him off English club management a move abroad could be an unlikely, if semi-logical step. David O'Leary and Tony Adams have recently been lured to the Middle East, due in no part to the no doubt hefty pay checks accompanying their arrivals. While such a move would possibly not be as attractive to Smith from a footballing perspective, the idea of Don Revie-esque semi retirement could appeal to him.

While initially seeming pretty ludicrous, a return to Manchester United to link up with old friend Sir Alex Ferguson could also be an interesting proposition to Smith. Current Assistant Manager Mike Phelan, while being a reliable presence often sadly resembles a court jester who has been promoted to a position far above his station. Most Manchester United fans would react with horror to the idea of Phelan having any sort of tactical input, with Dutch Coach Rene Meulensteen seeming to provide the brains of the operation. Equally ludicrous might be the idea of Smith replacing Sir Alex, but his links to Sir Alex and his experience steadying the ship with Rangers after Paul Le Guen's disastrous misadventures at Ibrox may make such a idea slightly more tenable. One thing that would count against him in this regard is his lack of tactical nous and stoicly pragmatic nature. Given the choice Smith would always stick with his old favourites, as seen by his loyalty to players such as David Weir and Lee Mcullough. His propensity for conservative tactics would also probably not sit kindly with many United fans, nor the men at the top.

Sadly it seems that despite being an obviously capable manager, Walter Smith's love affair with Rangers has severely limited his potential options. Most British football fans would scoff at his unfashionably negative tactics and loyalty to veteran players, despite the widely favorable results they have achieved over the years. To me, the most likely scenario for Smith would be either a move abroad - whether in club or International management - or a reconciliation with the SFA and a return to the Scottish National Team. Whatever his future brings, what cannot be denied is Smith's status as one of the greatest managers ever to grace the Scottish league. Ally McCoist is set to take over at Ibrox in the summer, and the difficulty of the task on his hands should not be underestimated.

Thursday, 24 March 2011

The Return of Ricky Foster?

One of the more confusing transfer deals of last summer was Ricky Foster's loan move from Aberdeen to Rangers, with perma-crocked striker Andrius Velicka heading in the opposite direction. While Velicka was largely a disappointment at Aberdeen, failing to get a run in the side and scoring just one goal before his release in January, Foster has performed generally well at Rangers, earning plaudits for his Champions League displays against Manchester United and Valencia.

You would have thought that Aberdeen fans would be delighted at the potential return of a defender with experience at the very highest level. Sadly many cannot see past the rivalry between Rangers and the Dons, with Foster earning the ire of some after comments such as 'Ibrox is the best stadium that I have ever played at' and 'I feel at home at Rangers'. Football fans are notoriously reactionary and it is perhaps not surprising that many would greet Foster's return with flaming torches rather than banners, but you might expect a little more realism from supporters of a team who until January were without a single natural full back. Whatever Foster's limitations he is certainly a more capable full back than Rory McArdle and is not as prone to falling apart as David McNamee seems to be. Wherever Foster's loyalties ultimately lie, as long as he puts in 100% for the Dons it would be foolish to condemn him - his return would see the Dons squad strengthened with McNamee and Smith potentially leaving in the summer.

Foster himself seems pragmatic about the situation, conceding today that as things stood he would be a Dons player next season and that he was looked forward to working with Craig Brown and Archie Knox. These could merely be the words of a professional trying his best not to burn potential bridges, but Foster is under contract until 2013 and would command a decent enough transfer fee if he was to decide to move on.

Despite the Foster/Velicka swap largely proving disastrous this season, at the very least it will add an extra zero to his future transfer fee, and could potentially see the Dons possessing a far more experienced and accomplished player next season, working under an undoubtedly superior management team. In my mind the omens seem to be pretty good for Aberdeen.

Tuesday, 22 March 2011

Chris Maguire to leave Aberdeen?

Chris Maguire's six year spell at Aberdeen looks to be coming to an end after the 22 year old forwards agent admitted that he had rejected an initial offer from the Dons and would be speaking to other clubs. Aberdeen would be due a compensation fee if Maguire was to move on, but it will no doubt be a blow for Craig Brown and his top six aspirations. Despite a relatively modest goal return of 14 in 122 league appearances for the club Maguire has cemented his first team place this season after a successful loan spell at Kilmarnock last year. Aberdeen have been linked with Brechin forward Rory McAllister as a possible replacement for Maguire in recent weeks - the 23 year old Aberdonian has scored 45 goals in his last two seasons in the Scottish 2nd Division and is out of contract this summer. Craig Brown yesterday conceded that he was interested in McAllister when speaking to the Evening Express newspaper.

For my money losing Maguire would be a blow for both the player and the club. If Aberdeen are to move forward they need to keep their best players - particularly given Maguire and Scott Vernon's blossoming partnership up front. McAllister is in good form but is unproven at the top level. The potential compensation fee of £300,000 would hopefully allow Craig Brown to bring in a striker with more SPL experience as well as possibly freeing up the funds to strengthen other areas of the squad.

What is most important of course is not to jump the gun - Maguire is still an Aberdeen player and has not personally commented on the matter. While it seems unlikely that he will stay at Pittodrie next season there is every chance that his circumstances will change. I for one will be fully behind Chris for the rest of the season.

Sunday, 20 March 2011

My Favourite Pundits: Rob MacLean

Being described as the Scottish Gary Lineker is not likely be a comparison that elicits rejoicing from most broadcasters North of the border, but given MacLean's role fronting SPL highlights program Sportscene it is an obvious one to make.

While MacLean has not enjoyed Lineker's illustrious footballing career the similarities do not end with their job descriptions. MacLean is far from the stereotypical dour Scotsman and is always an affable presence. Despite reporting on a league where allegations of bias and corruption are as rife as the zero's in Wayne Rooney's bank account MacLean is also refreshingly even handed. As with Lineker, MacLean seems so at ease in the presenters chair that a certain air of (obviously unintentional) smugness can creep in from time to time but it is thankfully always reined in to managable Pierce Brosnanesque levels.

Despite Sportscene's many faults as a highlights package the quality of its guests cannot be faulted, with a revolving door SPL managers taking part and even national team manager Craig Levein taking time out from hunting down passports and birth certificates to make the occasional appearance. It is with these high profile guests that MacLean demonstrates his aptitude for hosting, keeping discussion ticking over nicely without ever dominating proceedings himself.

His critics would perhaps argue that he is bland, but I would say that in an age where self promoting, obnoxious pundits are the norm a presenter of MacLean's quality deserves more plaudits than he generally recieves. ESPN sign him up!

Thursday, 17 March 2011

A Cup Semi and a Call Up for Aberdeen

Aberdeen had two pieces of good news last night after following their Scottish Cup Quarter Final Replay defeat of St. Mirren, striker Chris Maguire was called up to the Scottish National squad for the second time. Maguire won his first cap as a substitute in the friendly victory over Northern Ireland last month and will be looking to add to it against Brazil next Saturday. With Kenny Miller the only out and out striker in the squad, I think Maguire can be fairly confident of getting a few more international minutes under his belt.

It was Maguire's goal that opened the scoring against St Mirren, before Scott Vernon put the Dons two up shortly before half time. Despite Nikola Vujadinovic's calamitous own goal just seconds after coming on, Aberdeen managed to hold on and have booked a Scottish Cup Semi Final against this seasons bogey team, Celtic. Despite our shocking record against them this season, I would much prefer to win the Scottish cup having beaten one of the Old Firm, and have every confidence that Aberdeen can finally avenge the 9-0 capitulation earlier this season. Come on the Dons!

Wednesday, 16 March 2011

Aberdeen Vs St. Mirren: Match Preview

Kick Off: 7.45pm
Coverage: Live on BBC Radio Scotland

Craig Brown will be looking for a reaction from his Aberdeen side after they only managed to scrape a 1-1 draw on Saturday. Facing a probable semi final draw against Celtic will have most likely dampened Aberdonian hopes of a cup final but going through would be a great result nonetheless.

David McNamee is a major injury doubt after limping out of Saturday's match, and Rob Milsom could also miss out. Ryan Jack and Sone Aluko could both come in after being rested and dropped respectively, with Jack potentially replacing Milsom in the centre of midfield or playing out on the right hand side. If McNamee misses out he will most likely be replaced at right back by Rory McArdle, who came on for him on Saturday. Fraser Fyvie, Darren Mackie and Yoan Folly are still all out with long term injuries.

I would personally like to see Craig Brown keep it simple, particularly with home advantage on the Dons' side. Steven Smith had a good game on Saturday but I would rather if he moved back to left back, with Andy Considine moving inside to partner Zander Diamond. Scott Vernon has gone a few games without a goal and you could easily make a case for his exclusion but I would like to see him start -he has an ability to hold the ball up not present in any other Aberdeen player and has linked up very well with Chris Maguire in the past, even if their understanding was not really there on Saturday. Josh Magennis has been in good form of late but I prefer having him as an option on the bench.

There are no more excuses anymore - with no wins in four improvement will be needed tonight. I'm not doing a prediction for superstitious purposes, suffice it to say that I will not be happy if Aberdeen crash out tonight!

Monday, 14 March 2011

Aberdeen on Crossbar Challenge

An amusing video I found while browsing youtube - last seasons Aberdeen squad appearing on Soccer AM's 'crossbar challenge' segment. Particular highlights include Derek Young's self deprecating introduction, Charlie Mulgrew reminding us why a lot of people dislike him and Davide Grassi managing to sum up his Dons career in one hilarious vacant stare. Enjoy!

Sunday, 13 March 2011

Match Report: St. Mirren 1 - 1 Aberdeen

Aberdeen: Langfield, McNamee (McArdle, 13), Diamond, Vujadinovic, Considine, Magennis, Hartley, Milsom, Smith (Aluko, 71), Maguire, Vernon (Blackman, 63)

St. Mirren: Gallacher, van Zanten, Mair, Potter (Higdon, 60), McGregor, Travner, Muray, Thomson, Goodwin (Mclean, 67), Dargo (Mooy, 87), McGowan.

If ever there has been a match that sums up the bipolar nature of supporting Aberdeen it is this one. Despite being pumelled for large portions of the second half, Rory McArdle's last gasp equalizer earned the Dons the chance of a home replay next Wednesday, prompting euphoric scenes at the final whistle.

Craig Brown went for a slightly confusing team selection, with Chris Maguire returning to the starting line up after suspension, Josh Magennis earning a start after an impressive cameo on Monday night and Nikola Vujadinovic also coming in. Ryan Jack was rested while Sone Aluko and Derek Young dropped to the bench. Despite the presence of three centre backs and two full backs suggesting a 3-5-2 formation, Aberdeen actually lined up in a more orthodox 4-4-2 shape. Andrew Considine shifted to an unfamiliar left back position with Steven Smith on the left hand side of midfield and Josh Magennis on the opposite flank.

The formation worked fairly well in a drab and even first half. Man of glass David McNamee hobbled off in the early stages, replaced by Rory McArdle. Beyond that the first 45 minutes passed largely without incident. Steven Smith got up and down the left flank very well, compensating for Andy Considine's lack of natural attacking instincts. Despite this Considine actually had a solid match, growing in confidence as the game progressed and looking assured in possession. Sadly Scott Vernon and Chris Maguire's flourishing partnership looks to have stalled a little after two matches apart, they did not link up very well and Vernon looked starved of service. Maguire's return was a little disappointing after I built him up to near messianic status during his absence. He offered plenty of industry - causing what looked like hundreds of pounds worth of damage to St. Mirren's advertising hoardings - but little invention.

The second half started as drably as the first half ended but came to life after St. Mirren's top goalscorer Michael Higdon came on at the hour mark. An Aberdeen defence that had looked good up until that point suddenly fell apart, with Vujadinovic and Diamond getting dragged apart too often and Rory McArdle looking lost at right back. It was only Jamie Langfield's fantastic work in goal that prevented the Don's being on the wrong end of a drubbing, but even Langfield could not stop the Saints taking the lead after 77 minutes, following some typically shambolic Dons defending. While St. Mirren deserve their fair share of credit for some good attacking play, I would partially blame Craig Brown after some underwhelming substitutions. Nick Blackman is undoubtedly a hugely talented young man but does not have half the workrate of Scott Vernon. After he replaced the Dons top scorer Aberdeen tended to lack an outlet when on the break. While Aluko was very lively after coming on, without Steven Smith on the pitch the Dons also looked very vulnerable on the flanks.

Aberdeen gradually lost their shape as the minutes ticked by, with Vujadinovic seeming to realise that he is not a very good defender and trying his luck up front. Sone Aluko gave the team an injection of pace and skill that they had previously been lacking, which begs the question - why wasn't he starting? It was Aluko's good work on the right wing that led to Aberdeen's goal, earning a free kick. Paul Hartley caused havoc with one of his trademark deliveries before Rory McArdle took advantage of a goalmouth scramble, poking home with just 30 seconds left on the clock.

If I'm honest I was a quivering wreck for much of the second half and therefore not in a position to give any intelligent analysis on the subject. Despite this there are a few main conclusions that can be drawn from yesterdays match.

1. Brown should stop messing around with the team. While we looked ok in the first half it is frustrating to see our most talented player on the bench with others playing in unfamiliar positions. Save the experimenting for less important league fixtures.
2. McArdle and Considine should be given another shot at centre back together. In my opinion they have been our best two central defenders this season, I have a feeling that Diamond is in the team on reputation rather than merit - we have generally looked better without him this season. Vujadinovic is slightly more confusing. He has good pedigree and looks a talented player but seems to lack concentration and go walkabout too often for my liking.
3. Scott Vernon is knackered. He hasn't scored for a while and probably needs a rest. I would like to see him fit and raring to go for the replay - now is the time to give Blackman a proper go in his preferred position - up front, partnered by Chris Maguire. No excuses now.
4. No more playing centre backs at full back. I don't think I need to elaborate. Rory McArdle is a good centre back but looks awful playing at full back. Considine largely had a good game but I would rather see him in the middle.
5. Play Aluko. Even off form, when given the right service he is probably our most dangerous player. We can't afford to have someone as talented as him warming the bench.

A much better performance will be needed a week on Wednesday. With home advantage Aberdeen should go through but will need to be wary of complacency. We have been in an eerily similar position before and still managed to cock things up in spectacular fashion...

My Man of the Match: Jamie Langfield
Runner Up: Andrew Considine

Friday, 11 March 2011

St. Mirren Vs Aberdeen: Match Preview

Kick Off: 12.15 GMT
Coverage: Live on BBC Scotland

After their top six aspirations ended on Monday night Aberdeen will be hoping to restore some semblance of meaning to their season by cementing a place in this years Scottish Cup semi final. Saturday's opponents St. Mirren are also in the midst of a disappointing season, currently a place below Aberdeen in 11th, seven points ahead of rock bottom Hamilton with a game in hand.

Chris Maguire returns from suspension and should go straight back into Aberdeen's starting XI with Zander Diamond also looking set to retain his place at centre half despite suffering a head injury on Monday night. Craig Brown's most difficult decision looks to be whether to partner Chris Maguire with Scott Vernon up front in a 4-4-2, or to use Maguire and Sone Aluko either side of Vernon in the more experimental 4-3-3 formation that they have lined up with on occasion this season. Fraser Fyvie, Darren Mackie and Yoan Folly are all still long term absentees for the Dons and all look to be out for the rest of the season.

St. Mirren haven't won at home since October 30th, when ironically enough they defeated a poor Dons side 2-1. Craig Brown will no doubt be looking for a reaction after three matches without a win - he has called this his most important match of the season and will find little disagreement among Dons fans. Defeat would see their season all but over while a victory would bring some much needed excitement to the North-East. My prediction: A nervy 1-0 victory for the Dons.

St Mirren (from): Gallacher, McAusland, Travner, McGregor, Potter, Murray, Thomson, Goodwin, Dargo, Higdon, McLean, van Zanten, Mair, Mooy, McGowan, Cregg, Wardlaw, Samson.

Aberdeen (from): Langfield, McNamee, Blackman, Diamond, McArdle, Smith, Considine, Young, Milsom, Aluko, Magennis, Hartley, Jack, Vernon, Maguire, Howard, Vujadinovic, Pawlett, Paton.

Tuesday, 8 March 2011

Match Report: Dundee United 3 - 1 Aberdeen

Aberdeen: Langfield, McNamee (Blackman, 75), Diamond (McArdle, 31), Considine, Smith, Hartley, Aluko (Magennis, H/T), Young, Jack, Milsom, Vernon.

Dundee United: Pernis, Dillon, Douglas, van der Meulen, Watson, Conway (Shala, 54), Robertson, Swanson (Robertson, 70), Buaben, Gomis, Goodwillie (Russell, 88).

A very disappointing defeat and a poor performance to match from an Aberdeen side without defeat in four before last night. Dons boss Craig Brown opted for a versatile 4-3-3/4-5-1 hybrid, with fit again Zander Diamond replacing Rory McArdle and Derek Young coming in for Nick Blackman.

In truth Aberdeen were poor throughout, with their defence never looking settled and often struggling to hold a decent line. A Zander Diamond header was the only real chance during a poor opening 15 minutes, the defender sustaining a head injury in the process. Diamond was replaced by similarly head-injured Rory McArdle after 31 minutes. The first Dundee United goal came just two minutes earlier while Diamond was off the pitch. Craig Conways corner being headed in by Barry Douglas would most likely not be a strange sight to Dons fans used to seeing their side concede from set pieces. While there were suggestions of a foul on Paul Hartley there were still a number of Aberdeen defenders in the box and they really should have done better. David McNamee had a poor game overall and it was his poor headed clearance just four minutes later that gave Craig Conway the opportunity to test Jamie Langfield. Langfield spilled Conways shot into the net, a bad mistake that will come as a blow for a keeper who had been in solid form recently.

After a hugely lackluster first half performance Craig Brown replaced the ineffective Sone Aluko with Josh Magennis, reverting a more traditional 4-4-2 formation with Magennis partnering Scott Vernon. It took the hulking striker just six minutes to make an impression, heading home Scott Vernon's intelligent flick on. Despite a brief resurgence Aberdeen soon faded, severely lacking in shape and conceding a third goal on the hour mark, Danny Swanson's superb half volley eventually proving too much for Aberdeen to come back from.

Overall Aberdeen were very poor, lacking both cohesion in defense and inspiration in midfield. Chris Maguire's work rate and movement up front were sorely missed. Scott Vernon had one of his worst Aberdeen games, largely due to a lack of service. Derek Young was poor, Hartley struggled to get into the game and Robert Milsom looked good on the ball but lacking in the creative spark necessary to invigorate a sluggish looking Dons side. Magennis almost changed the game after coming on - he provided a directness not previously seen by Aberdeen and looked a handful despite limited service. Steven Smith was a rare bright spot in a dreadful defensive performance, working hard and getting up and down the pitch well despite lacking an end product. The rest of the defence were simply not good enough - David McNamee in particular had a shocker - his distribution standing out as being very very shoddy. Aberdeen have a talented midfield on paper but they will not be able to perform if they aren't given decent service from the defence, something that was not happening last night. After looking very assured in Zander Diamond's absence against Hearts and St. Johnstone, Rory McArdle and Andrew Considine really struggled after Diamond's injury, a worrying sign for an Aberdeen side that had recently looked very solid in defence.

Sadly this result most likely ends Aberdeen's top six aspirations, attaching greater importance to Saturday's Scottish Cup Sixth Round tie away at St. Mirren. The Dons will need to find form quickly if anything is to be salvaged from a very underwhelming season.

As always, all comments and criticisms more than welcome.