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Failed Stephen Glass experiment shows Aberdeen must look closer to home

AFTER 11 months of largely dour and disappointing football, the Stephen Glass experiment at Pittodrie has drawn to a close. Saturday’s 2-1 defeat at Fir Park that heralded the Dons’ exit from the Scottish Cup proved to be Glass’ breaking point as the Pittodrie board finally lost patience with the 45-year-old.

His dismissal can be viewed one of two ways. There will be those that point out that despite the club’s ninth-place league position, they remain four points off of fourth place having played one fewer game than almost all of the sides above them. The other school of thought is that Glass has had nearly a year to mould this Aberdeen team in his image and green shoots of progress are few and far between.

I find myself falling into the latter camp. Sure, the Premiership side are only a decent run away from leaping up the table but the style of play has been uninspired, to say the least. Glass’ Aberdeen were characterised by a tendency to have plenty of the ball but in truth, they rarely looked like they knew what to do whenever they made it within 30 yards of the opposition goal.

This apparently allergic reaction to chance creation will be the primary cause of death as the former Scotland internationalist’s reign undergoes a post-mortem in the coming days but there have been other factors at play, too.

Whoever succeeds Glass at Pittodrie will inherit an ageing squad and one that was assembled that way by design. Scott Brown (36 years old), Cristian Ramirez (30), Jay Emmanuel-Thomas (30), Declan Gallagher (30), Marley Watkins (30) and Gary Woods (30) were all brought in last summer and Ramirez is the only one who doesn’t have question marks over his future in the North East.

Glass opted for the reliability of experience over the effervescence of youth in the transfer market and it will be his successor who bears the brunt. The squad is in need of a revamp and keeping a hold of the likes of Lewis Ferguson and Calvin Ramsay has to be a priority for whoever lands the gig.

Glass’ tenure will go down as a forgettable episode – Aberdeen won 32 per cent of their matches on his watch, one of the lowest rates in the history of the club and a significant downgrade on the 52 per cent that his predecessor Derek McInnes was achieving – but it is also a black mark against Dave Cormack.

The Dons chairman has been a welcome addition to Scottish football and the way in which he occasionally joins in football phone-ins on the radio to present his point of view is refreshing. His ambitions for Aberdeen are encouraging but the Glass saga offers a pointed lesson in recruitment.

When McInnes was removed from his post in March of last year, Cormack said that “the board will start the search for the new management team immediately and has a clear timetable in place”. He was true to his word as Glass was unveiled a fortnight later but one has to wonder how far he really looked.

It was Cormack’s championing of the strategic partnership with MLS’ Atlanta United that landed him the position of chairman in November 2019 and it was from the club’s B team that Glass was plucked. After his appointment, Cormack declared Glass was “the outstanding candidate for the role”.

Of all the places the ideal replacement for McInnes could have been found, it just happened to be at the one club that Aberdeen have a partnership with? Come off it. Glass might well have ticked a few boxes on paper but let’s not kid ourselves: that special Transatlantic relationship between the two clubs was the driving force.

Cormack fell into a trap that is apparently irresistible to US-based owners of Scottish clubs with high hopes and low expectations of our game: bringing in a relatively untested coach as the face of their revolution.

Punters are bored to tears of hearing about how with a few years of shrewd investment and clever work in the transfer market, it’s only a matter of time before American financing and a fresh perspective will create a third force to challenge the Old Firm duopoly. It’s the sort of high-minded sentiment that has most recently been dished out by the owners of Hibernian and Dundee – and yes, Aberdeen – and yet never comes to fruition.

Jack Ross, currently unemployed after being let go by Hibs in November, is an obvious front-runner for to replace Glass but Jim Goodwin would be my choice. The St Mirren manager’s teams have improved year on year in every season of his coaching career and he is an up-and-coming talent who is deserving of a shot at a bigger club (with the greatest of respect to the Buddies). He has unearthed some gems from Ireland and has an impressive track record of developing exciting young players.

But perhaps most importantly of all, he has that one quality that so often trumps the rest: experience. Goodwin has spent years coaching in the SPFL and is intimately familiar with the ins and outs of managing in Scotland. So is Ross. The same couldn’t be said of Glass.

Shaun Maloney’s difficult start to life at Hibs should serve as a further warning to Cormack and the Aberdeen board. The Leith club opted for an exciting coach with a good reputation but no real experience, and there have been a few teething problems to say the least. Yesterday’s win over Arbroath in the Cup will bring a timely morale boost but it has been far from plain sailing so far.

These ambitious owners are always determined to be the one to figure it all out; to discover the hidden value and outsmart the rest of Scottish football with a left-field appointment, overlooking more qualified candidates closer to home. It hasn’t worked yet.

Glass was a gamble for Cormack and one that didn’t work out. Bringing in an untested manager was a mistake and Aberdeen now find themselves in a worse state than they were in when Glass first pitched up at Pittodrie. Now that the search for a successor has begun, the Dons chairman should be looking a little closer to home.

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