Some Aberdeen fans have been left angry by a perceived lack of strengthening as the January transfer window slammed shut – while others think the quality of the squad has never been the root of the Dons’ struggles this season.
With the window closing at 11.30pm on Thursday, it became clear around 9pm there was likely to be no more transfer business down Pittodrie way – incoming or outgoing – and the news set off an explosion of commentary from the Red Army.
Aberdeen looking pretty likely to be as they are until the end of season at present. No ins. No outs. 🆎
— Ryan Cryle (@RyanCryle) February 1, 2024
The majority of fans in my replies bemoaned the lack of signings in a January window which yielded just one incoming transfer for Aberdeen – with central midfielder Killian Phillips arriving on loan from Crystal Palace.
Meanwhile, in terms of winter window Dons departures, three players exited after getting next to no meaningful game-time under just-sacked boss Barry Robson in the first part of the season.
Centre-back Rhys Williams and full-back Or Dadia had their loans cancelled, and frozen-out Dutch wideman Vicente Besuijen completed a loan switch to Emmen in his homeland for the rest of the campaign.
Has the sum total of Aberdeen’s January business left the currently-managerless Reds with clear and concerning holes in their squad as they target a climb from lowly eighth in the Premiership over the rest of the season?
Or is their squad strong enough to turn around a run of just six wins in 21 league matches and to launch a Scottish Cup tilt… if their next boss – with a short-term interim appointment expected in the coming days – simply better utilises the players available to them?
What signings did Dons fans – and Aberdeen – think were needed in the January window, and what did they get?
A couple of weeks ago, I asked Aberdeen fans for their views on what the Dons’ signing priorities were in the January window.
The Red Army were split on whether a central defensive midfielder or a wide player was the number one priority – but it was clear they thought reinforcements in both positions were needed.
In terms of Aberdeen’s board and recruitment team (and boss Robson before he was axed following Tuesday’s 1-1 Premiership draw at home to Dundee), it is understood they viewed adding steel in the Ylber Ramadani-shaped hole at the base of midfield as their most-important task.
Aberdeen think the acquisition of Crystal Palace loanee Phillips – who made his debut off the bench against Dundee – will solve this issue.
In the final days of the window right up until the final hours, Aberdeen also wanted to bring in a central defensive reinforcement and attacker.
This centre-back recruitment drive was created by injuries to Slobodan Rubezic – expected to miss a couple of months with a knee issue – and Stefan Gartenmann, who has been struggling with a toe problem.
But promising bids for Mattie Pollock and Jason Kerr ultimately fell flat.
Meanwhile, Aberdeen landing a wide attacker always felt like a secondary concern in the final days of the window.
Aberdeen miss out on centre-back and wide player – but is it the end of the world if the squad is utilised correctly?
So Aberdeen were one-for-three in terms of the signings they tried to make in the January window.
It is worth mentioning here the centre-back need turned out to be not quite as great as first thought, with Gartenmann in contention for Saturday’s visit from Celtic and Rubezic expected to be back before the end of the season.
Still, a lot of fans have posted their anger at the lack of incoming Dons transfers.
But others say they feel the squad is fine as it is – and it is just how they have been used so far this season which has been the problem.
Here are two examples of those contrasting viewpoints:
Given the absolute mess the playing squad is in, that’s frankly a dereliction of duty by the club.
— Sug71⭐️⭐️ (@Gussyboy71) February 1, 2024
Dont need a single player in the door apart from Besuijin recalled from FC Emmen and back in the squad.
On top of that they need a manager who can get the best out of a very good group.
— The Away Section (@CurvaWanderlust) February 1, 2024
Analysing both viewpoints, there is merit in the latter. But it does come down to a new manager coming in who can get a better tune out of a squad rebuilt to the tune of around £2 million in the summer than Robson was able to – in the league, anyway – this term.
If a new boss comes in, heeds what many onlookers would consider the most important lesson of this season so far under sacked gaffer Robson and plays four at the back (a 4-3-3 or similar), the Dons have enough defensive options.
At centre-half – even without Rubezic for the foreseeable future – they have Gartenmann, Richard Jensen and Angus MacDonald, with highly-rated youngster Jack Milne also waiting for his chance at centre-back.
Full-back isn’t an issue, with Nicky Devlin on the right one of Aberdeen’s most consistent performers this term, both defending and going forward.
On the left, James McGarry, promising in his first couple of games for the club, has the potential to flourish under new management, with Jack MacKenzie an experienced-enough alternative to the New Zealander.
If Phillips does prove to be an adequate Ramadani replacement in a three-man midfield, then there’s skipper Graeme Shinnie and Connor Barron – bafflingly under-used up to this point – to play in there, too, as well as midfielders more suited to advanced central midfield positions: Leighton Clarkson, Jamie McGrath and Dante Polvara.
Bojan Miovski upfront is arguably the Premiership’s best marksman, with 19 goals to his name this season in a team who have barely spent any time in the top six – and holding on to him without incident was probably Aberdeen’s best business in the January window.
Duk – who also remains an Aberdeen player despite late bids from Spain and the Netherlands – is best suited to and is the best option on the left of the attack, and a new boss can hopefully help him rediscover his magic, goal-filled, player-of-the-year-winning mojo from last season.
Wide right, you would have to say, is the obvious question mark post-transfer window, and looking ahead to the rest of the season, for Aberdeen.
Robson was using centre-mid Polvara out there (and McGrath wide left) towards the end of his tenure in a belated attempt to make a back four – and the rest of his team – click. But there was little to suggest it wasn’t a case of square pegs in round holes.
In terms of more natural wide right options, Besuijen would have been among them, had he not been loaned out by the club once more just days before a managerial sacking.
Either Shayden Morris – having recently recovered from a second serious hamstring injury in two seasons – or youth academy product Ryan Duncan will likely be required to step up and make this position their own over the rest of the campaign.
What if they can’t reliably help provide service to Miovski and provide their own goal threat? This is the big potential pitfall from Aberdeen’s January transfer window dealings.
However, with the money spent in the summer, and 14 incoming signings overall during the past two transfer windows, and players like Miovski, Duk, McGrath, Clarkson et al at the club, the incoming Dons manager, whoever they are, should have enough to work with.
While Hearts are out of sight in the Premiership’s third position, and Kilmarnock are in pole position for fourth after bolstering their ranks with striker Kevin Van Veen, Aberdeen’s squad should be more than strong enough to challenge for fourth and Europe – but the key is their new boss finding a tactical and motivational approach which gets the best out of them.