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Alex Smith: Derek McInnes should be proud of the job he did at Aberdeen

Former Dons boss Alex Smith.
Former Dons boss Alex Smith.

Alex Smith has felt those same pangs of anger and frustration which Derek McInnes is undoubtedly feeling after being relieved of his duties as Aberdeen manager.

29 years separate the duo’s dismissals from Pittodrie but Smith knows exactly how McInnes will be feeling after seeing his eight year tenure brought to an end by the Dons board.

Smith has emigrated to Australia but he retains a strong interest in Scottish football and he believes the pain McInnes feels just now will eventually be replaced by pride and possibly relief at no longer bearing the burden of leading the Dons.

He said: “I phoned Derek and Tony Docherty before the first game of the season to wish them well. I don’t know if it was because of the pandemic or the fact he had just lost Sam Cosgrove to injury on the eve of the season but he sounded jaded.

“The opening day loss to Rangers was a hugely disappointing game too. It was a dull, dreary non-event with little spark from Aberdeen and while they responded really strongly to that it initially it has petered out a little this year.

“It’s a different era now thanks to social media but fans are still the same. They get used to players and managers being at their club and then the calls for something new, something fresh begins.

“I have no doubt they are both hurting just now but they should be proud of the job they have done and I hope in time they can see that.

Derek McInnes, right, with assistant Tony Docherty

“Eight years at a club like Aberdeen is some achievement. I spent 12 and a half years at Stirling Albion. I loved the club, played for them, won a league title but I know I was there too long and the task of trying to continually producing talent to sell on to balance the books every year and be competitive on the park was a daunting one.

“Even the fans had come to accept I’d probably be there for forever so when I did eventually go to St Mirren it felt like a huge relief. It was a new club, a fresh challenge.

“Aberdeen is not an easy club to manage. They have got money but not enough money. They are in a great city but one which is not quite big enough. They are a European club in their own right but managing there can be a hard road to travel.

“It is isolated there and attracting players has always been tough. Once you get someone up there to and they get a feel for the place they fall in love with it and I’m sure Cormack Park can only help that signing process further but convincing someone to come up to Aberdeen has always been a hard sell.

“Doing it for eight years when you are losing your best players season after season cannot have been easy and in time Derek and Tony will probably feel relieved the burden has been lifted.”

The feeling among some Aberdeen fans was that McInnes had taken the Dons as far as he could and the club was showing signs of regressing.

Smith believes supporters’ feeling are clouded by Aberdeen’s failure to add another trophy to the League Cup won in 2014 and that it will be the one regret McInnes has from his hugely consistent tenure.

He said: “Derek did a terrific job at Aberdeen. In fairness, he came in after Craig Brown and Archie Knox had got the ball rolling and got the club back on the right track but there’s no doubt Derek and Tony Docherty took that ball and ran with it.

“The League Cup game really lifted a millstone from the club’s neck and from there Derek had the team involved in championship races and cup finals but just couldn’t get one of them to go his way.

“A cup final win against Celtic or a title win might just have been the catalyst to take the club on to the next level but it wasn’t to be.

“With Rangers out of the league for a spell it fell to Aberdeen to be the team charged with the task of trying to get closer to Celtic and while Aberdeen had those four second-place finishes I am sure Derek will be disappointed they didn’t get closer to Celtic in the end.

Steven Gerrard (left) with Aberdeen manager Derek McInnes.

“But you cannot question the consistency of the team. To be in the top four throughout his time at the club is taken by granted by some but it was a consistent pattern we hadn’t seen for many years from the club.”

Smith was the first to be sacked in Aberdeen’s history but it is clear McInnes will not be the last.

Football has always been a cut-throat business but Smith, former chairman of the league managers’ association in Scotland, believes patience is in short supply in the game.

It is hard to argue with McInnes becoming the sixth manager in the Scottish Premiership to leave their club this season following Gary Holt, Neil Lennon, Stuart Kettlewell, Alex Dyer and Stephen Robinson in leaving their roles since the new campaign started in August.

Smith said: “I regard myself as a man-manager type and I enjoyed getting to grips with the team as a group in the dressing room but it must be so hard for coaches to be talking to players in one dressing room, then visiting another due to Covid restrictions.

“Even travelling to matches has changes. It’s not such a big deal if you are firing on all cylinders like Rangers have been under Steven Gerrard but for other clubs and managers it will have been a huge challenge.

Rangers manager Steven Gerrard (right) with Jonny Hayes at full time in the match between Aberdeen and Rangers.

“It’s no surprise to me that we’ve seen so many changes in manager made in the Premiership alone this season and it’s amazing to me that Steven Gerrard is now the longest serving manager in the division.

“It tells you a few things. One, patience is in short supply and two, the demands are as big as they have ever been.

“I look at a guy like Dick Campbell who is the longest serving manager in Scotland now by a country mile. He is in double figures in terms of the number of promotions he has masterminded.

“With his coaching staff it’s like Dad’s Army in there but they are successful because of that bond they have and the trust which comes with it. But he has become the exception rather the norm.”

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