Brave New World?
Last week saw the launch of a new, largely unheralded Aberdeen FC boardroom strategy intended to lay out the direction the club intends to take in the next 3 to 5 years. The seven point plan was presented to season ticket holders and DNA members at a Q&A session held at Pittodrie.
I decided to head along to get a feel for the substance behind the flashy brochure. These are my takeaways from the night; both the encouraging and the concerning. Given we’re a week out from the event I’m not sure this can be considered a hot take but give it a minute in the micro and this is piping hot, trust me.
Any football fan that isn’t at least subconsciously wary about the intentions of the board at their club are probably the same people that believe Microsoft need their card details over the phone to get rid of a virus on a laptop they don’t own. It’s fair to say my guard was up ahead of attending the event, expecting the normal empty platitudes and promises to be trotted out, with very little in the way of substance to back them up.
What I found in reality were a trio of directors, Dave Cormack (vice-Chairman), Duncan Fraser (Chief Executive) and Rob Wicks (Commercial Director), brimming with a genuine enthusiasm to drive the club to the next level off the field.
Before anyone accuses of me of being taken in by their fancy words and jive talking, I’ve attended enough business presentations as part of my day job to be able to tell the difference between confident bullshitters and the real deal. Cormack, Fraser and Wicks are credible, have a proven track record and clearly have the best interests of the club at heart. The results they’ve achieved in recent years speak for themselves:
- Debt free club for the past 5 years;
- Annual turnover doubled to £15.4m in past six years;
- £12m required to deliver the new training facility has been 100% funded by board and private backers, no bank debt incurred.
With these guys at the helm I’m optimistic that the financial performance and will continue in the right direction
On a side note, although Milne’s name is still above the door, it seemed clear to me that Dave Cormack is now acting as the Chairman in all but name.
Although it was confirmed on the night that the opening of the long-awaited training hub has been pushed to October, the fact that the first team and youth academy players will soon be able to take advantage of this dedicated state-of-the-art facility is a massive plus for the club.
No longer will players be able to blame the Dog Shite Bobble™ for wayward shots on public parks. Never again will the manager have to convince potential signings that our training ground on the other side of town is too far away to bother travelling to.
The training hub represents a major step change in the club’s ability to train, retain and attract a higher calibre of player. Potential recruits are already being given tours of the complex and have commented on the high standard on offer. The long-term benefit to both the club and community is immeasurable. The club deserve great credit for realising this long-held vision and delivering it without the need for bank loans.
Don’t worry. This isn’t me doing an about-face and suddenly coming out as staunchly Pro-Kingsford.
I’ve always been vehemently opposed to the idea of relocating the club and I’ll remain that way until I’m convinced that all avenues for redeveloping Pittodrie have been properly explored. I’m still pissed off that the club have deliberately allowed a once glorious stadium to deteriorate into its current state of dilapidation. I’m even more annoyed that the self-inflicted condition of the ground is now being presented with a knowing shrug of the collective shoulders as a primary motivation for moving to Kingsford. I remain majorly concerned that the club’s desire to generate additional advertising/corporate revenue (they estimate between £3m and £5m a year) from a new stadium will overshadow all other considerations, especially the fan experience.
All that being said, if we’re to reluctantly accept that the board will eventually raise the £50m required to make Kingsford a reality and consign Pittodrie to history, we have a duty as fans to hold the board accountable to ensure they deliver a stadium befitting our club. Long after the current custodians are gone, we’ll be the ones left watching our team in their new home.
When’s the encouraging part coming, I hear you ask?
Cormack, Fraser and Wicks have undertaken a number of fact-finding visits in recent months to clubs which have recently built new stadia including Atlanta United, Gent and Tottenham. Encouragingly, the emphasis of these trips appears to have been on how finding out how the clubs have used innovate stadium design to optimise the match day experience for fans. The Aberdeen directors are now armed with a list of initiatives which will be considered in the Kingsford design.
Further cause for optimism is the commitment from the club that an extensive series of fan consultations will be held as the design phase progresses. It is incumbent on the fans to make sure these sessions aren’t the club simply going through the motions. No one should be complacent and blindly trust the club will deliver a solution that fits our needs. We need to ensure our voices are heard.
More Money, More…?
As mentioned, the financial performance of the club in recent seasons is hard to argue with, as well as doubling the turnover in the past six years, the board have also made an additional £1m available to the first team budget in the past two seasons. How this budget is utilised continues to be a massive concern to a large number of fans, including myself.
It’s widely acknowledged that McInnes’s greatest failing in the past couple of seasons has been poor recruitment and there’s increasing pressure on him to get it right this summer. There were a few revealing snippets which came out of the strategy document and Q&A session which give an indication of whether that’s likely to happen:
- The board has no involvement in recruitment. The scouting effort appears to consist of McInnes, Docherty and Head of Recruitment, Russ Richardson aided by Wyscout. By their own admission, Richardson is stretched to capacity and the implication was that he’s heavily reliant on Wyscout. It’s little wonder we’re supposedly targeting the likes of Ash Taylor and Curtis Main if this is the extent of our talent identification network.
- Niall McGinn was taken back to the club on an improved four-year contract after his ill-fated 6 months in South Korea. Why did no one at the club question why a player whose legs were clearly going before he left was being given such a lengthy contract on better money?
- There’s a rigid wage structure in place at the club which doesn’t allow for marquee signings on higher wages to be made. This appears to have been implemented at the request of the manager as a way of keeping the dressing room harmonious. Again, the implication is that we will be operating in the same market as previously.
- The £400k paid for Stevie May represented a significant effort from the club and the way it was heralded at the Q&A convinced me that McInnes won’t be allowed/keen to write off the transfer as a failure any time soon.
The overall tone suggested the board are happy with the recruitment process and they’re content with how the additional funds generated by themselves and the DNA scheme are being spent.
It’s evident that McInnes like operating in the UK transfer market with “known” quantities who he’s personally scouted that will fit the existing wage structure. However, his track record even when dealing with such a small pool of players can still be considered poor.
The club has set itself the goal of increasing turnover from £15m to £20m in the next two years. I have serious reservations whether this will translate into a greater quality of player on the pitch if the management team continue to constrain themselves to such a limited group of potential recruits.
Cloudy with a Chance of Transparency
The launch of the strategy document and the holding of the Q&A session were lauded by the panel as the start of a new era of transparency; indicative of the club’s effort to dispel “fake news” in the age of social media.
It was disappointing then that the questions posed to the panel had to be submitted to Dave McDermid in advance and Dave then decided which questions would be asked. Both myself and my mate asked pointed but fair questions relating to recruitment and the role of fan groups like Dons Supporters Trust, and neither question was asked.
A commitment to being more open with the fans should be an absolute and answering difficult questions is vital to building trust. Having those questions screened by a guy who’s publicly called Aberdeen fans “clowns” in the past isn’t a good look.
One of the key points in the new strategy is the introduction of the “Challenger Club” branding, which isn’t nearly as wanky “blue sky thinking” as it sounds. Cut through the marketing waffle and being a Challenger Club simply means positioning ourselves as a club which tries to find more innovate ways of the bridging the resource gap that exists between us and the Glasgow clubs; both on and off the pitch.
While there’s clear evidence of the board thinking outside the box, it doesn’t appear this new brand has been passed on to the management team. The style of play and tactics employed in the past few seasons have been as reductive and uninspiring as anything served up by the succession of previous failed managers. McInnes’s win rate might continue to stack up well in comparison but nothing about the attritional style of those victories screams innovation or of finding new ways to mount a challenge.
The autonomy with which McInnes operates means it’s very unlikely that anyone in the boardroom will be having a word in his ear anytime soon to suggest there may be better, more attractive ways to win games. Ultimately, the boardroom vision may be stymied by the limitations of the manager.
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