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An £850,000 signing who made just three starts – why Ronald Hernandez’s Aberdeen career is set to end

Aberdeen's Ronald Hernandez faces Rangers at Ibrox.
Aberdeen's Ronald Hernandez faces Rangers at Ibrox.

The enigmatic and baffling Aberdeen career of Venezuelan international right-back Ronald Hernandez is coming to an end.

Aberdeen’s most expensive player in more than two decades is set to secure a permanent move to Atlanta United.

That move will end a frustrating and failed Pittodrie career which promised much but delivered so little.

The talent is clearly there, Hernandez is an established international. However, the Red Army didn’t see it.

Secured for £850,000 in January 2020, the full-back played just 221 minutes in total for the Reds.

Scant return for such a large investment.

Having failed to make an impact at Pittodrie, the right-back was sent on loan to Atlanta, Aberdeen’s strategic partners, last February.

Aberdeen expect a deal to be completed imminently for a permanent move to the Five Stripes.

Atlanta United vice president Carlos Bocanegra confirmed a permanent deal has been agreed with Aberdeen, which is pending MLS approval.

Aberdeen anticipate that a permanent transfer will be given the green light.

It will call time on an Aberdeen career that will forever be fogged by a sense of ‘what if?’

Faced Messi but frozen out at Dons

An Aberdeen player who has not just started, but held his own, against superstars like Lionel Messi, Gabriel Jesus, Philippe Coutinho, Dani Alves,  Thiago Silva and Roberto Firmino at international level.

Just six months prior to signing for Aberdeen, the Venezuelan had faced seven-time Ballon d’Or winner Messi in the Copa America quarter-finals, but couldn’t get game time at Aberdeen in the Scottish Premiership.

Ronald Hernandez pictured when signing for Aberdeen.

An established international who started against Brazil in a World Cup qualifier in October and played in the U20 World Cup final, yet one of the most expensive signings in the clubs’ 119-year history started only three games for Aberdeen with three substitute appearances.

Where did it go wrong?

Argentina’s Lionel Messi, right, and Venezuela’s Ronald Hernandez vie for the ball during the Copa America quarter-final at Maracana stadium in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil in June 2019.

Pandemic and a change in formation

The coronavirus pandemic shut down Scottish football less than two months after Hernandez arrived at Aberdeen.

He spent almost a year in the Granite City separated from his wife Krisvany and young daughter Adeline.

They had been set to join Hernandez in Aberdeen.

However, they were left stranded in Venezuela when the country went into lockdown with travel restricted due to the coronavirus outbreak.

Almost a year apart from his family will have been tough enough. When you add in a global pandemic, the stress must have been crushing.

The impact of that must surely have had an adverse effect on the defender.

Thankfully he is now reunited with his family in the United States and his wife recently gave birth to a second child.

Ronald Hernandez when unveiled as Aberdeen’s latest signing in 2020.

Lack of game time before signing

When he signed for the Dons on January 31 2020, there was also an acceptance Hernandez was not in top shape due to lack of game time.

The Norwegian season, where he played with Stabaek and made more than 50 appearances, had finished two months earlier on December 1.

Hernandez went straight into the Aberdeen squad, but was an unused substitute in the 0-0 draw with Rangers at Ibrox.

He made his debut in the 1-0 loss to St Johnstone at Pittodrie on February 5.

Ronald Hernandez on his Aberdeen debut against St Johnstone.

Football was shut down due to Covid just five weeks later.

When football eventually resumed after the shutdown, Hernandez started the 1-0 Premiership opening day loss to Rangers.

However the defender, like the Aberdeen team that day, failed to impress.

Rangers’ Ryan Kent (left) holds off Aberdeen’s Ronald Hernandez in the 2020-21 Premiership opener.

The Venezuelan was then taken off at half-time of the 1-0 win at St Johnstone on August 20 after again struggling to make an impact.

He only made two further cameo appearances for the Dons off the bench before the loan to Atlanta.

Aberdeen’s switch to three at the back on the resumption of football has also been blamed for his lack of game time.

However, Hernandez was signed as an attacking, pacey right-back who could not just defend but deliver crosses and take on players.

Surely that would have been ideal to slot in as a wing-back ahead of a three?

Cormack paid for Hernandez deal

The hefty £850,000 price tag and subsequent lack of game time will make Aberdeen fans baulk.

However, at the club’s 118th AGM in December, chairman Dave Cormack said he and his family paid for Hernandez’s transfer.

Aberdeen chairman Dave Cormack.

The United States-based chairman also insisted there was no ‘conspiracy theory’ about Hernandez’s season-long loan deal to strategic partners Atlanta.

Cormack said: “There’s no conspiracy theory. My family put in the money to buy Ronny, converted the cash into shares, so it didn’t cost the club anything.”

The rise of teen right-back Ramsay

Hernandez’s preference was to remain in the US.

However, there was unlikely to be any return route to Aberdeen while Calvin Ramsay is at Pittodrie.

Teenage right-back Ramsay has been a stand-out performer this season and Aberdeen are braced for offers in the January window.

Aberdeen’s Calvin Ramsay (22) during the 2-1 defeat of Dundee.

English Premier League Manchester United, Liverpool, Newcastle United, West Ham, Leicester City and Watford are all interested in landing the 18-year-old.

Italian Serie A Bologna and German Bundesliga Eintracht Frankfurt are also in the race to land Ramsay.

Enough to secure a permanent deal

The loan spell at Atlanta began slowly for Hernandez as he struggled to secure regular game time under manager Gabriel Heinze.

However, following Heinze’s exit in July last year, the full-back was immediately brought into the starting-line up by interim boss Rob Valentino.

Hernandez continued to impress under Gonzalo Pineda and became a first-team regular.

CF Montreal’s Kamal Miller (3) plays a pass as Atlanta United’s Ronald Hernandez (2) moves in.

Hernandez played in 13 of their 34 regular season matches, with eight starts, with Brooks Lennon primarily in that right-back role.

The Dons defender’s performances were enough to convince Atlanta to make the move permanent.

Starring on the international stage

This summer Hernandez played, and scored, in the Copa America finals netting a late equaliser in Venezuela’s 2-2 draw Ecuador.

It was no one-off, as he also starred in the 2019 Copa America – starting against eventual winners Brazil and in the quarter-final loss to Argentina.

Hernandez started World Cup qualifiers for Venezuela last month against Brazil, Ecuador and Chile.

He is expected to be called into the Venezuela squad next month for further qualifiers against Bolivia (home, January 26) and Uruguay (away, January 31).

Venezuela’s Ronald Hernandez, left, controls the ball as Argentina’s Sergio Aguero runs beside him during the Copa America quarter-final in 2019.

Hernandez’s stock is higher now than when he signed for Aberdeen.

If he goes on to make an impact at Atlanta, and on the international stage, there is no doubt Hernandez will be worth more than the Dons’ initial £850,000 outlay.

Which only adds further fuel to the burning question – why didn’t he produce the levels at Pittodrie his international pedigree would suggest?