Captain Jack reckons armband can be golden ticket to Strachan’s squad
Aberdeen midfielder growing into role as leader and wants to make breakthrough at international level
EING awarded the honour of the captaincy at your hometown club at the tender age of 23 is always likely to mark the start of a steep learning curve. There are the key questions of how to win the respect of older, more experienced players, how best to have your voice heard and acknowledged and the most effective way to serve as a buffer between management team and dressing room both in good times and bad.
As Ryan Jack has discovered at Aberdeen since taking over the armband last summer in the wake of Russell Anderson’s retirement, though, true acceptance in the role can hinge on the execution of one very particular task. Nail it down and the act of convincing your men to fall into line behind you becomes all the more straightforward. “The strangest thing is having to arrange all the tickets for everyone’s families,” revealed Jack as he returns to contention for a starting place following six weeks out with hamstring trouble.
“I have to hand them out to all the boys before games, so I feel like I’m working in the ticket office.
“All my family come to every home game and I usually need between five and 10 at least. Jonny Hayes is the one that is always asking for extras. He is from Ireland, so I don’t know why he needs 20 tickets for every home game.
“When you first get the captaincy, you do wonder what is involved with the role, but the manager has helped me through that.
“Russell is still part of the club, too, and I see him every day. He has been great with me and has told me what I need to sort out.”
There have, all the same, been some testing moments for Jack over the course of the campaign. Following a blistering start to the season which delivered eight straight victories, Aberdeen hit a slump between September and November that brought just one win from eight games in all competitions. A 5-1 home defeat at the hands of St Johnstone in October was perhaps the lowest point of that quite abysmal spell. As the Perth side prepare to return to Pittodrie this afternoon, Jack has reason to recall the lengths he went to in the hope of restoring morale during that difficult time.
He has grown up this term. He understands the pressures of responsibility and gives the impression he is happy to take that upon his shoulders as McInnes’s side, now seven points behind Celtic at the head of the Ladbrokes Premiership, endeavour to keep their title challenge alive.
“If anyone has an issue they want to bring up, I am there for them,” he said.
“If there is something that needs to be discussed in the changing room, we discuss it. I have never had this responsibility before, but you learn as you go along.
“It also helps that we have some senior players at the club who have had good experiences throughout their career. We sat down as a group after that visit of St Johnstone and we acknowledged that it wasn’t good enough. I think the response since that defeat has been great.
“I have enjoyed every minute of being captain this season.
“At the start, we went on a great run by winning eight games on the bounce. We then had a sticky spell where everybody had their opinions and said what they had to say. We have a great dressing room with a good few leaders. We got through it and we have just been on another great run recently.”
That, of course, ended last time out with a 3-1 loss to Caley Thistle.
Having come this far, it goes without saying that victory this afternoon is absolutely crucial.
For Jack, he has the added incentive of trying to catch the eye of the national coach, Gordon Strachan, as he prepares to run the rule over pretty much every player at his disposal for the upcoming World Cup campaign when naming two separate squads for the approaching friendly matches with the Czech Republic and Denmark.
“I have been out for a while and Scotland have a consistent squad that has been doing well,” said Jack. “If you have any sort of ambition, though, you want to play for your country.
“This season has been frustrating because of the injuries, but I want to do as well as I can for the rest of the campaign. There is a lot of competition in the centre of midfield with Scotland. It is possibly the strongest area of the team. We have central midfielders playing in the English Premier League who sometimes can’t get in the squad.
“I’m not stupid. I realise there are a lot of good players going for that position. If I have a chance, I need to be playing at the highest point of my game and playing well every week.”
LEADER OF MEN: Ryan Jack, right, back in training with Aberdeen team-mates Jonny Hayes and Willo Flood.