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.