Derek McInnes has Aberdeen relishing the challenges ahead

Aberdeen have moved five points clear at the top of the Scottish Premiership
Aberdeen have moved five points clear at the top of the Scottish Premiership

It is too soon to predict what this season might become for Aberdeen, but the progress already made at Pittodrie is evident.

In his body of work over two years at the club, Derek McInnes is proving to be a manager of substance.

Ambition at Pittodrie has tended to carry a wistful air, since the sense was always of trying to reclaim past glories.

Even now, current players express their determination by references to the pictures that adorn the stadium of the title-winning sides moulded with such ferocious intent by Sir Alex Ferguson.

McInnes and Aberdeen have found themselves to be a perfect fit: a hungry, absorbed, demanding and self-assured manager working at a club that yearns for achievement and respect, that needed its full potential revived, its sense of itself restored.

Taking ownership

Aberdeen fans still wince at the brushes with calamity, the seasons spent in the lower reaches of the league and staving off relegation. Haplessness seemed to characterise decision-making for a time, and even when periods of success returned, they tended to be interrupted by a moment of despair.

Jimmy Calderwood had a fine record at Pittodrie, but many supporters could not forgive cup upsets like losing to Queen of the South at Hampden. Mark McGhee struggled to match his ambitions for the role, then Craig Brown followed and provided a period of stability and progress.

Aberdeen supporters had become used to disappointments such as the 4-3 defeat to Queen of the South
Aberdeen supporters had become used to disappointments such as the 4-3 defeat to Queen of the South

The foundations were laid, and McInnes made full use of them. He did not shirk the demands of the legacy or the responsibility he was taking on. From the outset, McInnes spoke about reigniting the supporter base's passion for the club, of restoring Aberdeen's esteem.

Immediately, it was clear that the manager would not be diminished by the size of the task he was to live up to; instead, he demanded it of himself.

Building blocks

The recruitment strategy has been straightforward. McInnes has sought quality over quantity, and his signings have tended to add to the strength and versatility of the starting line-up.

Even though Adam Rooney continues to prove to be a reliable goalscorer, McInnes signed David Goodwillie to provide competition for places up front but also the option of playing a partnership in attack.

When the Aberdeen fans were hailing Peter Pawlett for his attacking enterprise and burgeoning potential, McInnes signed Kenny McLean to provide similar competition for places in the central attacking midfield area.

The summer was spent bringing in a good goalkeeper in Danny Ward, who is on loan from Liverpool, and signing the captains of Inverness Caledonian Thistle and Ross County respectively, in Graeme Shinnie and Paul Quinn.

Aberdeen defeated Celtic for the first time since 2014 with a 2-1 win on Saturday
Aberdeen defeated Celtic for the first time since 2014 with a 2-1 win on Saturday

Shinnie, one of the most consistently impressive performers in the Premiership last season, has played at both left-back and central midfield, while Quinn is equally adept at right back and centre-back.

Although Aberdeen's strongest XI would almost pick itself if the entire squad is fit, McInnes has brought together a group that carries few passengers or dissenting voices and is united in its cause.

Work ethic and belief

McInnes is a demanding manager, in the sense that players' responsibilities are clear and he expects them to be fulfilled. Yet the atmosphere at Pittodrie is not dictatorial.

McInnes has often spoken of the way Allan McGraw managed him at Morton, with the emphasis on one-to-one exchanges and confidence building. McInnes has become a manager of men as well as footballers, which has contributed to the team's growing assurance. He is always available to his players.

Consistency has been shaped by his intensity of purpose. Mistakes can be tolerated, but industry and application are central themes to Aberdeen's work and McInnes has often made reference to the personality and character of his players being as important as their ability.

It is a team that relishes competition, but also has a hard enough edge of pragmatism to manage games and their outcomes. A single-goal lead can be fragile, but Aberdeen have developed a knack of protecting them.

Their seven game winning streak at the beginning of this season is a club record, but the team also managed a similar run during the midst of the last campaign, which was the first time that had been achieved in 20 years.

Derek McInnes finally got the better of Celtic manager Ronny Deila at the fifth attempt on Saturday
Derek McInnes finally got the better of Celtic manager Ronny Deila at the fifth attempt on Saturday

Individual games can be won through various circumstances, but runs of consistent form are built on more solid principles.

Standards, standards, standards

McInnes is a contemporary manager, so is a strong advocate of the worth of sports science, analysis and advanced fitness training. Marginal gains can be significant and he has sought to improve every aspect of the club's work.

Even that process alone is invigorating, because the pursuit of better standards creates a culture of responsibility and excellence. There have been setbacks along the way, such as losing to Dundee United in last season's Scottish League Cup semi-final and the four league defeats to Celtic, particularly the 4-0 loss at Celtic Park last March.

McInnes himself had a difficult spell at Bristol City that ended in his departure, but he has lost none of his assurance. There is an edge to him, but also a sense of perspective.

He knows what he has achieved so far at Aberdeen, but is restless for more. While the rest of Scottish football assesses how far Aberdeen's title challenge might stretch this season, the manager continues to be sure-footed and wily.

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