The Aberdeen support could barely miss the glaring irony when Tony Docherty was called up to the Scotland set-up to replace the outgoing Andy Watson.
Complaints of a ‘west coast bias’ might have been forged in the Ferguson era but they certainly haven’t eased with the passing of time. We are convinced, whether rightly or wrongly, that the club is overlooked by the Glasgow-centric press, by players that prefer plying their trade in the comforts of the central belt and, finally, by those in charge of the national team.
Despite being the Dons’ finest performer this season, it was a no to Kenny McLean. Similarly, Graeme Shinnie was overlooked, even though his bite and drive would surely be a breath of fresh air for the Scotland team. Ryan Jack’s composure on the ball and ability to transition defence into attack might even have seen him stake a claim but, alas, it was not to be.
Instead, it was the club’s assistant manager who was to be given the nod. Tony Docherty is a name that would likely have Scottish football supporters in the central region scratching their heads. But it is a name showing burgeoning progress in the world of coaching.
Derek McInnes grew close with Docherty when the former was captain at Dundee United, and the latter was the team’s reserve coach. Upon stepping into management, McInnes would take Docherty to St Johnstone, and then south to Bristol City before they both returned north to Aberdeen in 2013.
McInnes clearly trusts his assistant. Docherty leads the pre-match passing exercises, while the manager observes his players. The squad responds to Doch’s shouts to increase the tempo, they laugh at his quips, and they appear fond of his humble demeanour.
As his profile has increased, he has taken on more responsibility in press conferences and post-match interviews. He is articulate and insightful.
Ayr United manager Ian McCall worked with Docherty at Falkirk before taking him to Dundee United and he hasn’t been at all surprised by his development.
“He had something that you can’t learn anywhere at the coaching courses, as much as I think they’re great. He’s got this really infectious personality that brings people to him,” he said.
“I’ve only met five or six boys like that in my long time in football. It’s a very special quality and he’s got it in abundance.”
McCall cited Docherty’s upbringing in a “fantastic family” in East Kilbride as partly responsible for the path his career has taken. He had a modest playing career in the lower leagues with the likes of Stirling Albion and Albion Rovers. During his time in Coatbridge, he would put his first step on the coaching ladder by joining the SFA as a development officer.
But what is he like behind the scenes on the training ground?
“He was always very, very well organised, and almost anal in his preparation of things,” McCall admitted.
Former Aberdeen midfielder Stuart Duff worked with the pair at Dundee United and shared McCall’s perspective.
“He gets very involved in the training,” explained Duff. “He does quite a lot of the drills himself. He’s there early setting them up. He’ll see the weakness of a team that they’ll play on a Saturday and they’ll work on things.”
“If they’re poor at defending crosses, Tony will work on getting the ball out wide where they can cause problems. He’s very tactically aware.”
But for McCall and Duff, it’s not the technical coaching that has served Docherty so well. It’s his ability to interact almost flawlessly with the players.
“I think that’s secondary to what he is,” said McCall. “I genuinely believe that. I think he’s got on because of this quality he has that you can’t teach. You don’t learn it anywhere. You either have it or you haven’t and he has it. He was very reliable and very loyal.”
Duff admitted he was impressed with Docherty from day one at Dundee United.
“Around the stadium, he demands respect but he’s not arrogant. He’s approachable, he’s well-mannered and well-spoken.”
Initially, Docherty’s main role was with young players, because of an ability to cultivate talent. His commitment was reflected in the hours he put in at work with both Falkirk and Dundee United.
“He’s more than willing to stay behind after sessions and help out with the younger kids, and he’s definitely got an eye for talent,” said Duff. “He’s very good at nurturing young talent and getting the best out of them.”
Footballers of all ages gravitate towards the coach. But, what does the future hold for him? This is the point where two of his biggest supporters disagree.
“If I’m brutally honest,” McCall pondered. “I don’t think he’s a manager. I’m not sure he would agree with that.
“I think wherever Derek goes, and I think there will come a time when he goes, I don’t think that’ll be in Scotland though, I think Tony will go with him. I don’t think there’s any doubt about that.”
Duff’s prediction differed significantly.
“There will come a time when he wants to push on and do his own thing. It’s been pleasing to see that he’s been given more opportunities to put himself out there because he’s well-respected within the game.
“Anyone that knows a lot about football will know how well-regarded he is and it’s no surprise that he’s involved with the national team.
“He’s got a very bright future ahead of him.”
The Aberdeen faithful are resigned to the notion that Derek McInnes will eventually leave the Pittodrie club. They know to savour the stability, professionalism and sustained success.
But perhaps one thing they did not fully expect was that Tony Docherty’s role in creating the culture that currently exists at the club is perhaps more than has been anticipated.
If Gordon Strachan survives a little longer, he might well become just as important to the Scotland set-up.
Written by Jack Thomson (@jthomsonmedia, @StatsAndSkirts)