The immediate need for the cold, confined comfort of a darkened cupboard aside, assembling Aberdeen’s ‘Worst XI’ of the SPL era raises a number of issues. Firstly, the timeframe is almost redundant: the recent past has been as barren, frustrating and humiliation-heavy as any other period in the club’s history. While this is convenient in terms of offering an array of choice, this scope also throws up a few more problems.
Sadly, there have been so many different types of awful, that narrowing them down becomes tricky. It is difficult, for example, to argue that a fresh-faced yet clearly sub-standard youngster was better than a costly, apathetic flop, yet their places in AFC history perhaps deserved to be remembered against a backdrop of different expectations. There are other factors too: effort, ability, popularity, results, scandal and the exact measurement of how demoralising it was to see their name on the team sheet of a weekend.
Thus, a balance has to be struck. With a bit of luck, this side covers all the bases, the innocent incompetents and the cynical charlatans alike. What we end up with may make for difficult reading for those of us who’ve made significant financial and emotional investments into the side over the last fifteen years. Think of it though, as a warning from history, a necessary Aberdonian spectre of uselessness, a time capsule buried behind the Beach End to ensure the same mistakes aren’t repeated. Writes John Callan.
Goalkeeper – Bertrand Bossu
With a six foot-seven frame and limbs which appeared to be sentient beings in of themselves, the French ‘keeper was quite astonishing. Perhaps harshly, his inclusion here is based largely on one performance, a 4-2 shellacking at Rugby Park. Never has anyone looked so uncomfortable in a Dons shirt, to the point where Killie players began launching efforts at goal from all angles, not unlike the manner of a Sunday league side sensing that their opponent’s ‘keeper has slept in and missed kick-off. It was to be his final start, and the man with the implausibly sinister name can now be found safely in England’s eighth tier.
Right-back – Jackie McNamara
Though remembered fondly at other clubs, his Aberdeen experience was an unmitigated disaster. Signed in the summer of 2007, a mixture of injuries (which were blamed on a daily commute from Edinburgh) and poor form meant he frequently looked a shadowy husk of his former-international self. The nadir came in the 2008 Scottish Cup semi final, where an apathetic and ineffectual performance saw him substituted on the hour. In the midst of a cacophony of boos from an already peeved Dons support, Jackie barely broke stride in jogging from the pitch and straight down the Hampden tunnel. Presumably to a waiting getaway car with the engine running; he was never spotted in Aberdeen colours again.
Left-back – Jamie McQuilken
The summer of 2003 became a watershed for Aberdeen. Banished were the excesses of the Skovdahl era, this had to be a time when fees and wages were cut back to a more manageable level. Steve Paterson signed McQuilken from Falkirk for £60,000, as the Dons looked to the SFL for bargains. Sadly, the problem with this policy was that many proved woefully short in the top flight. Nowhere was this more apparent than with the awkward figure of McQuilken. After just seven terrible league appearances (and one win) Paterson agreed, and he was deemed surplus by the following January.
Centre-half – Jerel Ifil
Arrived with the moniker of ‘the Beast’ and, in his defence, lacked nothing in commitment. That he was starkly conspicuous for ham-fisted ineptitude in a league where unsophisticated cloggers can forge out a decent career though, speaks volumes. His feet treated the ball with suspicion and venom, a trait which proved particularly unfortunate whilst in possession. An incident at St Mirren Park springs to mind, with Ifil by this time quarantined to right-back, no longer trusted in the immediate vicinity of his own goal. Under no pressure, his attempt to cut the ball into the rough airspace of a forward morphed into a high fade, finding instead the rear of the Main Stand to his right. Speechless.
Centre-half – Dave Bus
Appropriately, watching the blonde Dutch centre-half was bleaker than a smoke-filled trip on the 03:30 number 19 from Broad Street to Peterculter. Signed on loan from De Graafschap, redeeming features of any sort were thin on the ground. His crowning glory came against Inverness Caledonian Thistle, nodding inexplicably into his own net. Where exactly he intended that header to go remains one of life’s great unresolved mysteries.
Centre-midfield – Nigel Pepper
He cost £300,000. He lacked skill. His passing was poor. But, more notably, he was an unreliable thug. His Aberdeen career can be defined within a seven-minute period in 1999, six of which had elapsed into a substitute appearance before he scythed down Regi Blinker to earn a red card. Seventeen seconds into his return from suspension against Dundee United, a second pre-meditated chop earned him his marching orders once more. The briefest of gaps between two red cards was his sole achievement at Aberdeen.
Centre-midfield – Davide Grassi
Although initially a defender, the most backward of logic from Mark McGhee saw Grassi thrust into the centre of midfield, where his dizzying clumsiness was laid bare. Left-footed and calamitous, he seemed bewildered by the pace and even the standard of SPL football, watching games take place around him before periodically sticking out a wild leg like a terrified horse in the middle of a busy shopping precinct. The high watermark of his popularity came after just a couple of fleeting appearances, when he donned an AFC-themed facemask to protect a fractured cheekbone. If only Davide hadn’t kicked a ball subsequently, he’d be remembered a hero.
Centre-midfield – Nicolas Fabiano
Hey, let’s be fair, I’d be annoyed if circumstance forced me to swap the Champs–Élysées for Union Street. The former PSG midfielder’s displays betrayed this annoyance though, drifting in and out of matches with an insouciant disdain which delighted enthusiasts of national stereotypes. Sent off in his debut against Partick Thistle, unfit and uninterested thereafter, Fabiano departed after just seventeen appearances. Clearly scarred by the Aberdeen experience, he’s never played outside of Paris since, presumably spending his time frightening the clientele of Latin Quarter brasseries with tales of this grey, miserable purgatory in northern Scotland.
Forward – Tommy Wright
Clearly inspired by the exploits of Pepper, the aggressive Wright arrived from Darlington for around £100,000 in 2008 – notably long after any era of financial excess. His Fir Park debut was a microcosm for a miserable Dons career. Introduced with twenty minutes remaining, he contrived to miss a free header from point blank range with his first touch. He then attempted to head butt Stephen Craigan, before launching into two desperately late lunges on Steven Hammell – a caution being the euphemistic outcome for his afternoon’s work. “It is the way I play and I won’t change it,” bellowed a defiant Wright. He was released with a year and a half left on his generous contract.
Forward – Bryan Prunty
To Prunty’s credit, he has since forged out a good career in the SFL. Try telling that to those paying entry to Pittodrie in 2004 though. For the last six months of a thoroughly miserable season, with only Partick Thistle to save the Dons from relegation, Prunty took his place in a depressingly inadequate side and was still conspicuous for being particularly out of his depth. Perhaps harshly, he has come to embody one of the club’s lowest ebbs, and is now used as a means through which supporters warn against any potential signing from the leagues below: “He can score a few in the Second Division, like.” “Aye, so can Bryan Prunty.”
Foward – Leon Mike
In this XI alone, there have been several whose spell at Aberdeen has precipitated a swift downturn in their careers. For Leon Mike, his time at the Dons was an emphatic end. Arriving for £50,000 from Manchester City, the highly-rated, 21-year-old Lilleshall graduate had all the attributes for a devastating number nine, with goals on his debut and his first start affirming his promise. He only scored four more thereafter, looking slow, rotund and more than happy to collect his reportedly significant wage whilst offering little in return. As his performances implied, he had become disillusioned with the very concept of football itself, and never played professionally again. AFC have never claimed to be efficient, but to have dismantled a much-vaunted youngster quite so comprehensively in fifteen months must have taken some doing.
Manager – Alex Miller
The most difficult choice of them all. Ebbe Skovdahl finished bottom with a hefty budget. Mark McGhee was arrogant and hopeless. Steve Paterson managed to miss a home game after an all-night-bender and left in the boot of a car. But Aberdeen’s worst manager in the SPL period was also the first: Alex Miller. An appalling choice in the first place, his Dons sides not only played negative football, but played it badly, the type of football which can drain life from a club. He conducted the worst transfer deal in the club’s history, (in the SPL’s history?) not content with merely downgrading Billy Dodds for Robbie Winters, chucking in three-quarters of a million for good measure. There appeared to be a mutually contemptuous relationship with supporters. Results started poorly and got worse, his limp reign barely showing enough gumption to muster a high point. I’m confident he could get the very worst out of this bunch, if such a terrifying hypothetical match involving this team were to ever take place. Following Aberdeen can be bad. It should never have to be that bad.
If you would like to read more from John Callan you can find his work over at the Seagulls & Ricochets website, their twitter address here and John’s personal twitter account here.