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Loan spell was the making of me – even if it wasn’t where I expected, says Aberdeen defender Jack MacKenzie

Jack MacKenzie in action at Annan in the League Cup
Jack MacKenzie in action at Annan in the League Cup

Aberdeen defender Jack MacKenzie missed out on a dream loan move to Atlanta United two years ago, but the full-back thinks his alternative loan in Scotland was the making of him.

MacKenzie was all set on a loan move to the United States in 2020 before Covid scuppered the proposed trip.

As a result of the move to the MLS club’s second team failing to go through, MacKenzie instead spent the second half of the 2020/21 season on loan at Forfar Athletic.

The full-back, who returned from Station Park to make his first team debut for the club, believes the move was pivotal in his early development.

He said: “I was only at Forfar for 15 games, but I’d say it is probably the 15 most important games I’ve ever played.

“I learned so much there. We were struggling, bottom of the league, it was a scrap playing part-time football with players who work 9-5 then come to training.

“It was a real eye-opener for me and it has stood me in good stead.

“Going into training at night with boys who have been on a building site for 10 hours shows how lucky you have it and you can’t let this opportunity pass you by. You have to go for it and I’ve tried to do that.”

MacKenzie hopes current young Dons get their chance of trip to Atlanta

Atlanta was not to be as far as MacKenzie is concerned, but with Dons director of football Steven Gunn hoping to re-establish a link from Pittodrie to Atlanta, the player hopes some of his team-mates will get the same opportunity he was meant to – even if it failed to materialise.

Aberdeen director of football Steven Gunn. Image: SNS

He said: “We were coming back from our winter training camp in 2020 in Dubai and Derek McInnes pulled me aside and said there was this opportunity for me to come here on loan.

“At the time I was thinking: ‘I have to travel half way across the world, do I fancy it?’ The more I looked into it, the more I warmed to the idea.

“A couple of weeks down the line, I was dying to go. I was a week away from going then Covid hit and everything stopped.

“I was absolutely gutted with it and I ended up going on loan to Forfar. It is a wee bit different.

“Having seen the facilities and the city, it was an opportunity I was gutted to have missed out on – hopefully some of the younger players coming up can get that opportunity.”

Dons defender looking to kick on in second half of the season

MacKenzie’s immediate focus after the World Cup break will be to cement his place in Jim Goodwin’s first-team.

A quad injury in pre-season delayed the start of the campaign for the 22 year-old, but he is focused on the task of challenging Hayden Coulson for a starting role.

He said: “I finished last season strongly in the last five games and felt it was an opportunity to kick on.

“I came back really fit, physically the best I’d been, and then tore my quad in the first pre-season game.

Jack Mackenzie goes off injured during the pre-season friendly at Buckie Thistle. Image: SNS Group.

“I really struggled to get fit again from there and then couldn’t get in the team as Hayden was doing so well.

“I was thinking I am completely out of the fold here, but I got an opportunity against Hearts, played again at Motherwell and it has led to the gaffer putting his trust in me.

“The break has probably come at the wrong time for me, but hopefully I can kick on again when we come back.”

Coulson and MacKenzie pushing each other

MacKenzie and Coulson offer Dons boss Goodwin two different options at left-back.

Coulson is a more natural attacker having started his career as a winger, while MacKenzie’s strengths lie in his defensive qualities.

However, the Dons defender believes he and Coulson can bring out the best in each other.

He said: “Playing at wing-back is different in terms of your starting position.

“Hayden has played there a lot in his career, but I am learning and know the role well enough to play there if the gaffer needs me to.

“Hayden coming in is one of the best things for me – the way he plays the game is completely different to the way I do and I’ve learned a lot from him.

Aberdeen’s Hayden Coulson in action during last week’s friendly at Atlanta United. Image: SNS Group

“Being so different we give the gaffer options on what role he wants us to play. Hopefully we can push each other on.

“Defensively I feel is my strong point, but going forward there is an area I need to improve on.”

Solid start gives cause for optimism

MacKenzie and his team-mates will resume action on December 17 against Premiership champions Celtic at Pittodrie.

The Dons will welcome the Hoops to the Granite City in good spirits after reaching the break in third place in the division and MacKenzie believes there is cause for optimism.

He said: “We can take a lot of positives from the start. We’re third in the league and we finished 10th last season.

“We should have picked up more points than we have, but we’re coming from 10th when we were poor, so we should take confidence from that.

“I’m loving it – I’ve been with the club since I was nine years old and I go into work every day with a smile on my face.”