Skip to main content

Mark McGhee on shoogly peg as Aberdeen prepare the sack

It's been over 27 years since Aberdeen upset the European apple cart and beat Real Madrid to win the European Cup Winners' Cup. Now they're getting beaten 9-0 by one of the Old Firm. You really would love to know what a certain Manchester-based manager makes of it all.

Such has been the Dons' decline over the past three decades that you have to wonder what their most successful manager, Sir Alex Ferguson, thought after their latest SPL catastrophe at Celtic. Bear in mind, this is a man who brought Aberdeen three Premier League titles, four Scottish Cups, a League Cup and a European Super Cup on top of the Cup Winners' Cup success.

Although current manager Mark McGhee was one of Fergie's squad on that 1983 night in Gothenburg, he hasn't won over the Aberdeen support since taking over from Jimmy Calderwood in the summer of 2009 â especially after admitting in a press conference that he would have preferred the then-vacant Celtic post.

Calderwood was sacked despite getting Aberdeen back into Europe in 2007/08 and keeping them there past Christmas. They were eventually knocked out by Bayern Munich, but Calderwood's card had been marked by far more humiliating defeats in the domestic cup competitions, notably to Queen's Park and Queen of the South.

Now they have bigger fish to fry with McGhee incurring the wrath of his understandably furious support after their 9-0 collapse to Celtic. The loss leaves them (ironically) ninth, nine points off third place and just two above the drop zone.

Alone: McGhee surveys the wreckage at Celtic Park

To use a Scottish colloquialism, his jacket is on a shoogly peg. Reports suggest anything less than a home win on Tuesday night against Inverness Caley Thistle â who haven't lost away for year â would see McGhee and assistant Scott Leitch sacked.

While Aberdeen were being torn a new one, Ferguson was celebrating a last-minute win against Wolves at Old Trafford. As fate would have it, it's 24 years ago this week that Sir Alex, or just plain Alex as he was back then, left Pittodrie to replace Ron Atkinson at Old Trafford.

The team he left behind were still very much a force in Scotland with Jim Leighton, Willie Miller, Alex McLeish, McGhee & Co. â regularly getting in amongst the Old Firm (they finished in the top two for each of the first six seasons in the 1980s), reaching cup finals and travelling Europe on a regular basis.

The decline has been a slow painful one. McGhee is the 11th manager since Ferguson headed south, and the second of that 1983 team (after skipper Willie Miller) to try the manager's seat. If anything, the result at Celtic Park will have brought back horrible memories of the Ebbe Skovdahl era, when Celtic would rack up scorelines of 5-0, 6-0 and even 7-0 with unerring ease.

But this is a new low altogether. You're talking about a team that last won the Scottish Cup 20 years ago and only made one final in 17 (a 4-0 pasting by Rangers a decade ago), while their League Cup record shows the last success 15 years ago and again a decade since the last final appearance. Expectation may not be what it once was, but that barren spell is simply unacceptable. Maybe McGhee would agree with that.

McGhee rubs Miller's head on that night in Gothenburg

It's certainly a record that would have been unthinkable in Ferguson's era. But that's not to say that he would still have been successful in Scottish football today, which has changed to a completely unrecognisable level since Sir Alex left.

McGhee has bleated over the last year or so about a lack of finances for squad rebuilding, but he's no different to any other manager in the SPL. The squad he has simply is not good enough and even the youngsters coming through may not be the answer in the long term. That may be doing them a disservice at this early stage of their career, but the Celtic Park massacre should, if anything, force them to grow up.

In the meantime, Sir Alex may have privately offered some support to his former player. McGhee could do with it: the net is closing in on the Dons boss and even the words of his former mentor may not be enough.

Whatever is said off the field - by Ferguson, McGhee, fans or the board - the manager will only be saved by a successful run on the pitch to get them back into contention for third place â starting with Inverness.