Tro­phy would back up Aberdeen’s am­bi­tions

Sunday Independent (Ireland) - Sport - - SOCCER - EWAN MUR­RAY

IT would be no con­so­la­tion to Bren­dan Rodgers but if Aberdeen were to be the side to loosen Celtic’s grip on Scot­tish do­mes­tic sil­ver­ware, that out­come would seem fair. There will be de­bate about how mean­ing­fully they have done it but no team have re­cently threat­ened Celtic more than Aberdeen. The Dons have been run­ners-up for the past four sea­sons.

Un­der Derek McInnes, Aberdeen have an itch to scratch. Six semi-fi­nals and three fi­nals have re­turned one tro­phy, the 2014 League Cup. McInnes takes his play­ers back to the fi­nal of what is gen­er­ally re­garded as the lesser of the two knock­out com­pe­ti­tions to­day with Celtic in wait at Ham­p­den Park.

If McInnes can rightly be­moan un­for­tu­nate tim­ing — run­ning head-first into Rodgers’s re­lent­less side — then the fact Ross County, St Johnstone and In­ver­ness have also won a cup each dur­ing his Pit­to­drie ten­ure is a crit­i­cism Aberdeen’s man­ager will know all about.

The broader Aberdeen scene is fas­ci­nat­ing. Work is un­der way on an £11m train­ing fa­cil­ity to form part of a £45m devel­op­ment that will see the club leave Pit­to­drie. The sale of the old ground, pos­si­bly for as much as £20m, is key but more fundrais­ing is re­quired. Aberdeen made Robert Wicks the club’s com­mer­cial di­rec­tor with pre­cisely that in mind.

“I can see an up­lift in hos­pi­tal­ity rev­enue and we will make sig­nif­i­cant changes to what we of­fer there,” says Wicks of the fu­ture in a new home. “An en­hanced match-day ex­pe­ri­ence will help to bring crowds to the sta­dium ear­lier and hope­fully more of them. From a broader com­mer­cial per­spec­tive, there is noth­ing like a shiny new sta­dium to trig­ger con­ver­sa­tions with peo­ple about new part­ner­ship op­por­tu­ni­ties.

“You only have to drive round the sta­dium once to get the sense that it’s land­locked. We can’t ex­pand in the way oth­ers have. We can’t af­ford to take in­di­vid­ual sides of the sta­dium out for a year or more for re­de­vel­op­ment. The only real so­lu­tion is a new sta­dium and to make sure it is done right.”

A quiet cou­ple have played a key role in Aberdeen’s off-field re­ju­ve­na­tion. Elaine and Wil­lie Don­ald, own­ers of a suc­cess­ful en­gi­neer­ing firm near Stone­haven, wanted no pub­lic­ity what­so­ever when pro­vid­ing sev­eral mil­lions to help clear a club debt that peaked at more than £14m. Aberdeen had ear­lier been ham­pered by in­ter­est re­pay­ments to such an ex­tent that even con­tribut­ing amounts in the hun­dreds of pounds per week to­wards the wages of loa­nees from Eng­land was prob­lem­atic. Play­ers were of­ten sold out of ne­ces­sity.

With fi­nances sta­bilised, McInnes has been al­lowed to build and re­tain a team with re­sources be­hind only those of the Old Firm. Ac­counts re­leased last week show Aberdeen staff costs at £8.5m from a turnover of £15.4m. “We are prob­a­bly 85% down the line on the fund­ing for the train­ing fa­cil­ity,” Wicks says. “We are look­ing at nam­ing rights for the new sta­dium and a va­ri­ety of fund­ing so­lu­tions.

“Any­thing that we do around the sta­dium will in­volve new funds. If any­thing over the next cou­ple of sea­sons we want to in­vest more in the foot­ball op­er­a­tion. We launched a new ini­tia­tive nine months ago, a global mem­ber­ship scheme, which now has 6,500 mem­bers and gen­er­ated £1.3m that the club didn’t pre­vi­ously have ac­cess to.”

Two other ways Scot­tish clubs can make se­ri­ous money are by player sales and progress in Europe. That McInnes has not guided Aberdeen as far as a play-off round in five Europa League at­tempts has to be a dis­ap­point­ment, al­beit draw­ing Burn­ley this sea­son was hardly in the Pit­to­drie club’s favour.

In Scott McKenna, Aberdeen have an as­set ren­dered even more sig­nif­i­cant by the back­drop of a sta­dium plan. A £10m price has been placed on the phys­i­cally im­pos­ing cen­tre-back, for whom this cup fi­nal has wider mean­ing.

“He’ll go to the English Premier League and we’ll get the big­ger ticket on the back of that,” said McInnes amid Celtic in­ter­est in McKenna three months ago. “I’m very con­fi­dent of that.”

As the Aberdeen chair­man, Ste­wart Milne has in­vested far more time and money in the club than he will ever get back. As a hugely suc­cess­ful busi­ness­man, Milne is acutely aware of the big pic­ture. Adding an­other tro­phy to the cab­i­net would boost Aberdeen’s sta­tus at a time when they are try­ing so hard to back up grand plans with ac­tions.

Aberdeen v Celtic BT Sport 1, 3.0

Derek McInnes: Aberdeen have an itch to scratch

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