McGhee Takes Over The Dons

Last updated : 02 July 2009 By Stand Free Ed

MARK McGHEE officially takes over the Pittodrie hot seat today, when the players arrive for pre-season training, after what seems like an eternity has passed since his unveiling on June 12th.

Okay, better get this over with... THE LEGEND RETURNS! The Gothenburg hero has come home! Welcome back to the man who scored winning goals in cup finals, scored in the Super Cup, and laid on the winning goal against Real Madrid when the Dons won the European Cup-Winners Cup!

So no pressure then...

Mark McGhee and Scott Leitch

Picture thanks to Newsline Scotland

A few hacks will be rubbing their hands in glee at the weight of expectation (old chestnut alert...) that we Dons fans will place on our new gaffer from today until the time he is hounded out of the manager's chair.

And they will point to Calderwood's blethering in the press about unrealistic fans, the hounding out of even greater legend Willie Miller in the '90s, and probably make mildly xenophobic references to North-East parochialism and distrust of managers with Old Firm leanings.

Well, here it is. There will be pressure on Mark McGhee. But not for the myriad over-emphasised or simply untrue reasons that the lazy reporters are preparing to copy and paste. For the following reasons.

Aberdeen FC is in a fairly healthy position just now. Unlike when Jimmy C took over — and Ebbe Skovdahl, and Alex Miller, and Roy A*tken for that matter — the club is 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 (with a footnote that mentions a superb run in the UEFA Cup, that in reality should've been beyond what AFC was capable of at that time).

In addition to this, AFC's most recent financial results are those of a successful club, and the troublesome debt should be cleared once the move to a new stadium is finalised in the coming years.

So McGhee has arrived at Pittodrie faed with a tricky job — taking a club that was hitting the target, and turn it into one that can hit the bullseye.

That translates into three things: cup success, entertaining football and qualifying for Europe regularly.

The domestic cup competitions are the only competitions AFC can currently, realistically win. We know that cups can provide shocks, and that Aberdeen has no divine right to be in cup finals. But McGhee must make it a priority to improve upon Calderwood's woeful cup record: out of 10 cup runs, three have been ended by lower-league teams, four have been lost by 3 goals, and five have seen the opposition score 4 goals against us.

There is no getting away from the fact that the quality of football has been poor in recent seasons. Yes, the results have, in general, been good enough to get to betwen 3rd to 6th position in the SPL — where Aberdeen should be every season, going by size of club and wages spend — but the manner of getting those victories has frequently been atrocious.

A vivid memory of early in JC's tenure was an Inverness away game, where we scored a quick goal and camped every player in defence for the rest of the game. Seriously. We just soaked up pressure through weight of defensive numbers for an hour. It was dreadful, truly dreadful, and the only moment of happiness was when we got home and saw that 3 points had been added to the league tally.

No more of that please, Mark!

And while the aforementioned stability has been welcome after seasons of behaving like a yo-yo with a dodgy string, stability also equates to stagnation. The latter two of the last five seasons have seen a frustrating inability to push on, and the likes of Dundee Utd and especially Hearts have made greater strides than the Dons in terms of improvement in that time.

So there is a level of pressure on McGhee. He must improve on Calderwood's cup results and attractiveness of football, while not being any worse in terms of league positions and perhaps showing signs that the club can push further up the league in a future debt-free time. There will be some leeway given in the first season of McGhee's tenure — we don't expect miracles — but there must be improvement.

If this wasn't to happen, then what's the point in changing manager?

Fortunately, the club believes this is possible - Willie Miller saying that "these are exciting times here at Pittodrie" on McGhee's appointment displays that — and this is not the first time that McGhee has faced pressure coming in to Pittodrie... and he dealt with it in no small way then...

That was when new Aberdeen manager Alex Ferguson made McGhee his first major signing, taken from Newcastle United for £75,000 in March 1979, aged 21.

McGhee initially struggled to make an impact at Pittodrie — but then, he had some rather big shorts to fill (in both senses) - his physicality and position as striker meant that many fans saw him as the replacement for the fading King of the Beach End, Aberdeen's record goalscorer and fellow former Morton player, Joey Harper.

Don't worry Mark - our expectation levels are nowhere near as bad now...

McGhee made his debut for the Dons against his Greenock-based former club on April Fool's Day, 1979; that period at the end of 1978/79 gave little indication of what was to come.

The following season — with Harper still at the club and casting an intimidating shadow over a young forward looking to enforce himself on the first team — McGhee showed no signs of shirking the challenge. He made 21 appearances, scoring 11 goals, helping the Dons to a league win that was first outside of the Old Firm for 15 years.

A few years later, McGhee shrugged off the pressure of huge, never-before-seen-at-Pittodrie challenges on the pitch. His awesome run and cross from the left set up John Hewitt to score the goal that won the European Cup-Winners Cup against Real Madrid in 1983, and some months later McGhee was on target against Hamburg in the final of the Super Cup as Aberdeen were officially crowned the best team in Europe.

His final appearance for Aberdeen was in the 1984 Scottish Cup Final against Celtic, where he scored the winner in extra time and embarked on his infamous trumpeting elephant celebratory run, mimicked in school playgrounds up and down the country. Where was his Celtic allegiance there, eh?

Yes, more harking back to the '80s. But ironically, this backs up the club and fans' belief that Mark McGhee has the strength of personality to deal with not only the perceived pressure of history, but the actual pressure of the present.

He was premier candidate as far as the club was concerned, and the vast majority of the support's first choice to replace Calderwood. As such, there is no doubt that he will have the full backing of both the board of directors and the fans.

Welcome back to Pittodrie, Mark!

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