AFC Season Preview 2009/10 Part 3

The Club

Before starting this most contentious of pre-season previewary (hence it has appeared... er... after the season has started...), just a quick word. I am not an accountant; I am a fan who, as a shareholder, reads the financial review every year on order to get the best information about the state of financial affairs at the club and use this knowledge to get some perspective about the state of fitba affairs on the pitch.

This perspective is completely lost a lot of the time of course, particularly during games... Anyway, let's start.

On paper, Aberdeen Football Club PLC is in a fairly healthy position just now — relatively speaking. The club's most recent financial results showed a profit, and the troublesome debt should be cleared once the move to a new stadium is finalised in the coming years.

The Setanta collapse, lack of cup game income and two large compensation payments will have made a dent in the coffers following the promising financial results from 2008, but prudent running of the club in recent years — in football terms if not absolute business terms — has meant that the club should be able to cope by making some small budgetary adjustments.

On the pitch, unlike when Jimmy Calderwood took over — and Ebbe Skovdahl, and Alex Miller, and Roy A*tken for that matter — Mark McGhee takes over a club that was not sitting near the bottom of the table with a useless squad that needs wholesale revolution from top to bottom.

If the positive elements of Calderwood's time in charge could be summed up in a glib phrase, it would be that he brought the club back to where it should be in the league and maintained that level of SPL finish, and had a superb run in the UEFA Cup that in reality should've been far beyond what AFC was capable of at that time.

So McGhee has arrived at Pittodrie faced with a tricky job — taking the club to 'the next level', whatever that may be. But you've got to hand it to the board, it was a brave decision and it reflects well on their ambition to be somewhere higher than around 4th place in the SPL — which is exactly where Calderwood took us, and is exactly where the club's finances and attendances dictate that we should be.

To do this tricky job, McGhee will need to adjust the playing staff to suit his approach, and that means working with the players he's inherited (harking back to Dick Donald's infamous statement to Alex Ferguson) but also bringing in a few players he knows can immediately embody his philosophy on the pitch.

However, the latter is proving difficult, with the club apparently unwilling to spend the money required to get in the likes of Stephen Hughes, Jim Paterson and Steve McLean.

There are SPL-specific financial reasons for this, including the huge disparity between the buttons-and-Smarties in Scottish football and the vast amount of cash in English football, and there are AFC-specific financial reasons for this, noted above, particularly because changing managers from one who is under contract at Pittodrie to another who was under contract to another club is an expensive business.

The club has spent the thick end of half a million quid getting rid of the manager the vast majority of fans wanted out and getting in the manager the vast majority of fans wanted in.

If managerial changes were ever spoken of in terms of player-style transfer fees, most of us would be impressed by the total figure spent to get McGhee in.

However, this means a dent is the cash available for the coming season, because unlike Man City, Chelsea, Plymouth and the likes, AFC cannot magic money out of thin air.

The club will have told McGhee what the cash situation was during the negotiations to bring him in. McGhee will then have been given the full gen on his transfer kitty as soon as he arrived. There has been some mild posturing in the press as McGhee showed his frustrations, but that appears to have been sorted out now.

We have three sets of wages freed up from players leaving (buttons in Lee Mair's case) and that's it. So it is imperative that this money isn't wasted, and therefore it will take time to find the right players, and once identified there's no guarantee that they will come for any number of reasons from the quality of the SPL to the geographical location of Aberdeen.

There also seems to be a lack of suitable players out there anywhere near AFC's budget, or indeed any SPL club's — how many transfers have there been into the SPL this summer? I can't remember it ever being so quiet.

However, our current squad isn't bad — the guts of it qualified for Europe last season and didn't do too badly when we were in Europe in 07/08 — so hopefully McGhee can get even more out of it... and quickly.

The exciting thing this season is seeing what our new boss can do with the same set of players that someone who many people think was hopeless took to fourth place in the SPL in the last two seasons.

That may not appeal to those who are solely interested in fitba for the pre-transfer window speculation and signings, but those weirdos have always got the Premiership on the telly for their needs.

Then there are those who say the club is stingy, Milne should splash the cash, and the like.

Firstly, AFC have the 4th highest salary bill in the SPL, behind the OF and Hearts, who are in £30m of debt and in serious financial trouble. The club pays far more in wages than the next largest clubs in the SPL. The club is no more stingy than any other Scottish football club. Fact.

Secondly, Aberdeen FC is a plc, so why should Stewart Milne donate money to the football side of the business when none of the other shareholders are willing to? Milne does not own AFC, he is chairman of the board of directors.

Having said that, he has invested serious cash in the club by underwriting the share issue in the late '90s, plus by loaning the club another £2m (with Martin Gilbert via AAM also handing over £1.3m) during a clever bit of financial work that ensures the club's most valuable asset — Pittodrie — is safe should the worst happen.

So the board has spent a lot of money this summer, the club is being run better than is has been for almost two decades, and everything is hunky-dory. Right?


The board has taken the bold step of replacing a manager who had the club on the right track and delivered them a profit in the most recent financial year.

They now must take the equally bold step of risking some of the club's money on the new manager. Currently, they have done half the job — they have got in a better workman but left him with the rusty old tools.

OK, it would be a financial risk to loosen the purse strings or to tamper with the wage structure. But it is a much more dangerous game to fail to back up a new manager with at least some cash, so some solution must be found.

The fans are not easily fooled — we can tell when Flossie's wool is being pulled over our eyes — and having a new manager but leaving him on his own with substandard players will not cut the Dijon — and the fans who jumped ship years ago may still not return to Pittodrie.

There has been some good work done in the area of youth development, but it is still slightly too early to see the fruits of that, and therefore the club must show confidence in not only Mark McGhee, not only the possibility of future fees from youth players, but in their own decision to dispense with Jimmy Calderwood and take the club to the next level.

Therefore, some money must be freed up to rid McGhee of the dregs that he cannot see a future in, and bringing in the talent that will take the club forward.

A final mention to the communication from the club — something that has been criticised in recent times, possibly because AFC have relied too long on the dreadful and antiquated Aberdeen Journals machine.

Near the end of the season and during the summer, the communication from the club through its website has been nothing short of a revelation.

They have been clearly outlining the financial situation in simple terms, gave the latest information on the managerial situation before we had to read speculation in the press, and have been interviewing trialists and new signings almost as soon as they're in the door on the ever-improving RedTV.

This openness, combined with our new managerial staff, has been a breath of fresh air at a time when the club was in danger of going completely stale. But for this to translate into true optimism from the fans, more work has yet to be done at board level.


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