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Analysis: Three big questions left by Aberdeen’s weird January transfer window

Is Ross McCrorie going to be the next Aberdeen captain? Image: SNS
Is Ross McCrorie going to be the next Aberdeen captain? Image: SNS

If you are looking for a way to describe Aberdeen’s January transfer window, “a weird one” seems fitting.

Five loanees and one short-term signing arrived, while three players departed (two on loan), at a time where dreadful post-winter break form evolved into a full-blown crisis and resulted in manager Jim Goodwin losing his job. 

As the month (a notoriously tricky time to recruit already) progressed, there was an increasing sense the Reds’ board and those involved in the recruitment process at Pittodrie, including chairman Dave Cormack, were torn between two considerations.

On one hand, they were battling to bring reinforcements in to try to correct Goodwin’s squad – which had looked imbalanced since a £1.5million summer rebuild – selling to prospective players a team who were in the process of exiting both cup competitions (including the Scottish Cup embarrassment at Darvel) and racking up the worst goals-against record in the Premiership in plummeting to seventh.

On the other (certainly by the last few days of the window after Goodwin’s departure was confirmed), it looked as though they were trying to avoid making any permanent personnel changes at a time when club chiefs are still only in the early stages of their hunt for a new permanent boss, and while this unknown boss’ squad expectations are unclear.

Interim manager Barry Robson will be in charge of Aberdeen for the first time when St Mirren visit in the Premiership on Wednesday night.

He will provide an answer to one of these big post-transfer window questions facing the Dons immediately, but the other two will only be answered by the games and results over the rest of the campaign:

Is there now enough defensive depth at Aberdeen?

The arrival of Ajax loan goalkeeper Jay Gorter has assuaged any concerns over the potentially lengthy timescale on no.1 keeper Kelle Roos’ thigh injury, and means long-time keeper and former captain Joe Lewis will probably be back on the bench on Wednesday. Youth academy graduate Tom Ritchie looks likely for another loan, having been recalled from Peterhead to provide back up to Lewis in recent games.

While the Dons look well covered for goalies, the defence still remains a point of concern looking at Aberdeen’s squad after the transfer window.

On deadline day, the Dons let club captain Anthony Stewart return to England’s League One with a loan move to MK Dons, after his disastrous few months leading the Reds backline. 

Stewart’s performances, including his reckless red card in the League Cup semi-final defeat to Rangers, have been such the surprise element of this was his move away only being a loan, rather than a permanent exit.

Referee Nick Walsh shows Aberdeen’s Anthony Stewart a red card in the League Cup semi-final against Rangers. Image: SNS

At the weekend, before Goodwin’s exit was confirmed following a 6-0 hammering at Hibs, the Reds signed Watford centre-back Mattie Pollock on loan to bolster the defensive ranks, adding Swindon Town defender Angus MacDonald on a short-term deal until the end of the campaign in the hours before Stewart departed late on Tuesday.

Although they’ve added one defensive body overall after these January outs and ins, Aberdeen still look pretty light at the back – as they have all season.

Defender Mattie Pollock in action for Watford. Image: Shutterstock.

They still have loanee Liam Scales – sent off at Easter Road twice this term – to compete for a place at centre-half, but with the caveat he can’t play against his parent club Celtic

Right-back Jayden Richardson, meanwhile, another summer signing, was so out of favour under Goodwin he hasn’t been in the squad for recent games, with midfielder Ross McCrorie playing on the right of defence instead.

Meanwhile, at left-back, youth academy graduate Jack MacKenzie is currently injured, while Middlebrough loanee Hayden Coulson has a similarly patchy injury record of his own.

Aberdeen’s lack of depth in defence is still at a point where, should Pollock or MacDonald be ruled out for any reason in the early part of their Reds careers, there is still a not-wildly-unfeasible nuclear scenario where, when they head to Celtic in the Premiership on February 18, they could need McCrorie to shift position again back to centre-half, and need wingers like Matty Kennedy and Jonny Hayes to play full-back.

Angus MacDonald is one of two defenders brought in by Aberdeen in January, alongside Mattie Pollock. Image: Shutterstock

If this situation comes to pass, little more than two weeks after having the chance to address squad imbalances… you’d imagine Aberdeen fans’ questions about why more defensive reinforcements weren’t recruited at the end of the window – regardless of the form and managerial situation – will get very loud indeed.

Who is going to be the new Aberdeen captain?

As soon as ex-skipper Graeme Shinnie was brought back on loan from Wigan Athletic earlier in the month, fans who had become disillusioned with Stewart began to call for him to take over as captain.

Dons fans know exactly how influential a fit and firing Shinnie can be, and the midfield dynamo showed his capacity to still be a ferocious driving force in the first half against Rangers at Hampden.

However, the principle of giving a loanee the armband is a divisive one, with other supporters’ preference vice-captain McCrorie taking over from Stewart.

Aberdeen’s Greame Shinnie looks dejected during the 5-0 loss to Hearts. Image: SNS

At the moment, given every player in the squad has had their poor moments, there isn’t a consensus for skipper among the supporters.

They won’t have to wait long for an answer to this question, though – they’ll find out when Robson, tasked with improving results for the foreseeable future, sends his team out tonight on league duty against the Buddies.

Why do Dons have so many widemen – and why was Besuijen the one to go?

From the Aberdeen fans’ perspective, the biggest deadline day controversy was the departure of Dutch attacker Vicente Besuijen for Excelsior Rotterdam on a loan-to-buy deal. 

It seems many fans thought diminuitive attacker Besuijen, with three-and-a-half years left on his deal, would be given the chance to stick around and impress interim boss Robson – as well as whoever the new permanent Aberdeen manager is going to be.

Besuijen, despite being a bit-part player under Goodwin in recent months, had still bagged seven goals in 25 appearances this season, but it is unclear whether it was simply his performances, or clashes of personality, or more personal issues, which led to him being frozen out under the now-departed boss.

The £500,000 January 2022 signing has made far more of an impact than summer signing Shayden Morris (also on a deal to 2026) or Marley Watkins (out of contract this summer) this season, but both remain at the club – and, even with Goodwin gone, Besuijen has exited. Albeit temporarily for now.

Aberdeen’s Vincente Besuijen celebrates after making it 2-0 at home against Hearts in October. Image: SNS

Duk, Matty Kennedy and Jonny Hayes are other players who have all had significant game-time out wide this season, while another summer addition who can play on the flank, the now-fit-again Callum Roberts, has barely kicked a ball for the Dons so far, due to a long-term hamstring injury.

In addition to these wide players, there’s Ryan Duncan – the youth academy graduate who has looked like a real handful for opposition defenders… in the few chances he’s been given.

Which poses the question, why let Besuijen – of all the widemen – go, and add another winger to the pile with Tuesday’s midnight loan addition of Blackburn Rovers’ Dilan Markanday, an addition which could continue to block the development of a homegrown talent like Duncan?

Perhaps the need for Aberdeen to have this combination and sheer volume of wingers will become clear in the matches to come.

Dilan Markanday scoring for Blackburn Rovers. Image: Shutterstock