SOMETIMES no deal is better than a bad deal in football, too. Theresa May was presumably not on Derek McInnes’ mind – perish the thought – when he alighted on his decision to stay at Aberdeen rather than move to Sunderland a few days ago, but the beleaguered Prime Minister’s sentiment in relation to the Brexit negotiations evidently also rang true on this occasion.
Such was the outpouring of unbridled delirium that followed the news it was as if happy hour prices had returned to every pub across the Granite City. There was undoubtedly an element of surprise among the joy, too. After all, rare are the cases when a Scottish player or manager has had the chance to move to England and not jumped eagerly all over it. Finances tend to dictate as much. As soon as Sunderland’s interest in their manager became known, most Aberdeen fans would have become immediately resigned to losing him before starting to mull over possible replacements. That is usually how it works.
And yet McInnes was given permission to speak to Sunderland – the clubs agreed on compensation – and still elected not to go. It will be painted as a manager showing loyalty to a club that gave him the opportunity to reignite his career following a disappointing conclusion to his last spell in England, with McInnes also insisting in a statement that he felt there was “still so much to be done here”.
It felt like a coup in many ways for Aberdeen and a shot in the arm for Scottish football in general. Resistance is usually futile whenever an English club comes calling with their bountiful resources, and yet arguably the most successful Scottish manager of recent times – two cup finals and a second-place Premiership finish in the campaign just concluded suggest as much – still chose to stay. It felt like Scotland was finally sticking two fingers up to England, a significant moment in the ongoing attempt to develop and improve the game in the face of frequent raids of the best talent by clubs from across the border.
You don’t have to be of a particularly cynical nature, however, to wonder if this was simply the wrong club at the wrong time for McInnes. For all he made all the right noises about not resting on his laurels at Aberdeen, of bringing in better players and trying to top the achievements of last season – a Europa League group place was mentioned as a possible if unrealistic target – then there is little doubt that had Sunderland’s house been in better order, then McInnes would have left. And few could have blamed him if he had.
It perhaps underlines McInnes’ burgeoning status as a young manager of some repute that he chose not to take the leap into the unknown at the Stadium of Light. The theory often espoused is that managers are like commodities and when your stock is high, you have to move if a better opportunity arises. Some managers less sure of themselves might have noted Sunderland’s wretched recent track record with managers, their colossal debt and the uncertainty over future ownership, and decided it was worth the gamble anyway.
Take the big salary, spend the generous budget, and see what happens. If it doesn’t work out, or a new owner decides on a change of direction, then the forthcoming P45 will likely be accompanied by a sizeable pay-off cheque. Unless it was wholly disastrous, another job offer will be along a few months or so down the line.
That McInnes saw it differently either speaks to someone who thought Sunderland was just an impossible mission or who knows that this will likely not be his only offer. Should he keep Aberdeen on an even keel – and talk of “financial support” from new major shareholder Dave Cormack suggests he will be generously backed in the transfer market – then his next opportunity will not be far away. Late autumn tends to be a perilous period for managers who have not started the season well and McInnes will likely feature highly among any lists drawn up by chief executives at English Championship clubs looking for a proven figure to come in and steady the ship.
Those who enjoy a good conspiracy theory may also wonder whether McInnes also has one eye on developments at Ibrox as Pedro Caixinha begins his new cycle, to borrow a phrase, with a lot still to prove. If it seemed careless of Rangers to not consider their former midfielder for the managerial vacancy last time around, they will surely not make the same mistake twice.
That is all froth for the future. Regardless of his motives, McInnes is still Aberdeen’s manager and that continuity can only be a good thing as he prepares to take his team back into Europe and then into the domestic campaign. It would be naïve, though, to think that is simply the end of the matter.