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Scottish Premiership 22/23 season start

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The Times: Graham Spiers on MM


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Mark McGhee may be on the brink of being sacked by Aberdeen - and as sackings go in football some will argue that this one would be as justified as any.

 

McGhee’s dismal Dons have now won just once in 15 matches, having been removed by Raith Rovers at home from the Active Nation Scottish Cup. On Sunday an angry and pitiful Pittodrie crowd of 7,568 turned up to watch the latest setback, a 3-1 defeat to St Johnstone, which only served to thicken the lynch-mob on McGhee’s trail in Scotland’s north-east.

 

Even he admits that he might be done for. "I genuinely fear for my job now," McGhee said. "I’ve said all along that there are certain areas where I don't feel I'm culpable, but clearly, at this rate I'm not getting as much out of my players as I require."

 

McGhee's experiences in football have been fascinating for anyone who wants to work out exactly what makes a good manager. It is often forgotten today that, for a 12-month period back in 1994-95, he was arguably the hottest young ticket in British football management, being regularly touted as one of the big names to emerge on the scene.

 

McGhee had led Reading to promotion to Division One and then to contention for the recently-formed Premier League before going to Leicester City and then to Wolves. In these swift career moves he was depicted as ruthlessly ambitious and unprincipled in the media - with hindsight, given the attitude of many managers, some of that judgement looks laughable now - but McGhee’s talent was undeniable.

 

His successes since have been frequent but more low-key. Just like all his other teams, Wolves came close to getting into the Premier League under McGhee, but missed out. He then enjoyed instant and dramatic success at Millwall and then Brighton, getting both clubs promoted with almost indecent haste, though next to no-one appeared to notice beyond the diehard supports of these two clubs.

 

McGhee’s abilities were only reconfirmed when, arriving to become Motherwell manager in June 2007, he promptly led the Lanarkshire club to a giddy third place in the Scottish Premier League and into Europe. When I interviewed McGhee during that successful period at Fir Park he was still, 13 years on, scarred by the image he had created for himself at Leicester, saying it was “unfair†but was something “I just have to live withâ€.

 

At Aberdeen the engaging and colourful McGhee has sometimes cut a comical figure, being put-upon by an angry mob of fans who literally breathe down his neck in that Pittodrie dugout. When McGhee’s team, in abject fashion, lost at home to Raith in the fifth round of the Scottish Cup, he was duly performing his panda-style trudge from the dugout to the mouth of the tunnel when he suddenly stopped, looked up to the stand, and for a few seconds willingly bathed in the abuse that was raining down on him. A bit like Job, he appeared to believe that such personal affliction must be merited.

 

In what way is McGhee “not culpable†for Aberdeen’s current demise? Only in the sense that, with the club strapped for cash, he can hardly afford to buy any player of decent quality. McGhee is scavenging around in the third and fourth tiers of the English game for new recruits – such as the big, lumbering Jerel Ifil, once of Swindon – because it is the only market he can afford.

 

Nonetheless, Craig Brown has led Motherwell to fifth in the SPL, and Derek McInnes has taken St Johnstone to seventh, and both clubs have smaller budgets than Aberdeen. The Dons, currently ninth, are potentially facing a relegation dogfight over the next four weeks, and for McGhee it is all thoroughly undignified.

 

On Saturday, Falkirk, who are bottom of the SPL and fighting for their lives, go to Pittodrie for quite a showdown. If McGhee loses this match they’ll be wanting to dangle him feet-first from one of the rigs out in the North Sea.

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