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