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What's gone wrong with Aberdeen?

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To be fair, Aberdeen fans probably aren't alone in suffering from a kind of collective footballing dementia.

On the one hand, their long-term memory is generally outstanding, especially when it comes to the 1980s and the word "Gothenburg" is mentioned. More Aberdonians claim to have been there than hippies at Woodstock.

And you can hardly blame them for suppressing any recollection of the early part of the 21st century, the era of managers such as Ebbe Skovdahl, Steve Paterson, Jimmy Calderwood and Mark McGhee, of forwards like Leon Mike, Laurent D'Jaffo, Leigh Hinds, Bryan Prunty, David Zdrilic...I've only got as far as 2004 and already any Dons fans reading this have retreated to the corner of the room and curled up into a ball, whimpering softly.

But when it comes to Derek McInnes, there's a definite feel of "what did he ever do for us?" going around right now. Well, apart from the sanitation, the medicine, education, wine, public order, irrigation, roads, a fresh water system, and public health, he managed:

  • four consecutive second place finishes (the last time they had previously finished second was in 1993-94)
  • six consecutive top four finishes (they had finished in the top four six times in the previous seventeen seasons before Deek arrived)
  • a League Cup win (their first trophy for nineteen years)
  • two other League Cup finals and a Scottish Cup final (they had made it to four finals in the previous twenty years)
But that was then and this is now. And now Aberdeen go to Hamilton tonight on the back of a five match goalless streak. Their only goal in 2020 so far is a home to League One Dumbarton. They are fourth in the league, only three points behind third placed Motherwell, but are eight points worse off than they were at this point of last season.

You know it's bad when it comes to this: 
Oh, Deek. That's just desperate
— Narey's Toepoker (@Nareystoepoker) February 8, 2020

That is the sort of guff that a manager starts saying when they are feeling the pressure.

The truth is that Aberdeen look so stale that one expects to find a turquoise mould beginning to blossom on Andrew Considine's scalp.

Perhaps there's an inevitability about that. McInnes is the second longest serving manager in the SPFL, just six weeks shy of seven years at Pittodrie. For comparison, Tommy Wright is the only Premiership manager who has been in his current post for more than three.

And a few years ago the team hit a ceiling that was constructed out of shatterproof glass. 

The pinnacle was probably the 2017 Scottish Cup Final, where they scored first and went toe-to-toe with Brendan Rodgers' invincibles until Tom Rogic's injury time winner. The lineup that day? Lewis, Logan, Taylor, Reynolds, Considine, Shinnie, Jack, McLean, McGinn, Hayes, Stockley. Ryan Christie was ineligible to play against his parent club. Before he arrived in January, they had got half a season of James Maddison on loan.

Two and a half years on, five of that starting eleven remain. Shay Logan, Andrew Considine and Niall McGinn are all the wrong side of thirty and trending downward, while Ash Taylor, who returned to the North-East last summer has been a shadow of the player who left the club after that match. That leaves only keeper Joe Lewis playing at anywhere near the same level.

And just look at the quality of the players who have gone, particularly that midfield. Five years ago I'd have happily bet that playing for Aberdeen would have been the career pinnacle for Kenny McLean (now in the Premier League), Graeme Shinnie (in the English Championship), Ryan Jack (bossing it for Rangers) and Jonny Hayes (signed by Celtic for £1.5million). Hell, Jayden Stockley's career trajectory since moving on makes his failure to impress a bit of a weird one.

The rebuild has been tough, and its hard to know whether McInnes captured lightning in a bottle with some of his signings in the first few years, or alternatively he has just been unlucky in the last couple. Again, take the midfield. Craig Bryson, Funso Ojo and Ryan Hedges certainly came with a decent pedigree but none have made a decent impact. Before that, Chris Forrester and Stephen Gleeson proved to be huge misses, but both looked like good purchases.

Regardless, the remarkable form of striker Sam Cosgrove had papered over a lot of cracks. Now Cosgrove has hit the most spectacular funk in the Granite City since a James Brown-tribute act graced The Lemon Tree, the deficiencies are there for all to see.

It doesn't help that McInnes has shown little taste for tactical evolution. His obsession with man-to-man marking in open play works when he has superior players but often goes terribly wrong against stronger teams or better coached ones. Not unreasonably he has been criticized for a poor head-to-head record against Rangers and Celtic. It did not go unnoticed amongst the support that the side who pipped the Dons to third last time out were an extraordinarily well-coached David who not only had a habit of beating Goliath but also took great pleasure in shouting "bye-bye, Rangers!" at them.

To make matters harder still, a new chairman with American business links and an eye on trying to use the new stadium - which seemingly they now won't get into till 2023 - as a platform to push on will surely demand some on-pitch success to generate momentum and encourage investment.

That at least means that, if it proves that seven years is long enough, a successor will have a far stronger platform to work from than McInnes did in 2013, or any of his predecessors did for a generation before that. But even if his time is up soon, Aberdeen fans should force themselves to remember the nightmare years beforehand, and realize that "we need to move on from Derek McInnes" and "Derek McInnes has been a successful Aberdeen manager" are not mutually exclusive positions.

Lawrie Spence has whinged about Scottish football on Narey's Toepoker since September 2007. He has a life outside this blog. Honestly.

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