McGhee faces summer rebuilding operation
Aberdeen face their biggest summer in decades with manager Mark McGhee preparing his very own red revolution.
McGhee, who succeeded Jimmy Calderwood last June, has suffered a disastrous spell on his return to a club he famously served during his prestigious playing career. The Scottish Cup catastrophe at the hands of Raith Rovers last week was the final straw for the 52-year-old who is now preparing for a major close-season cull.
The Dons have endured one of the worst runs in the club's history following 11 games without victory but he finally enjoyed some light relief thanks to Saturday's win over St Mirren. The result provides the former Motherwell manager with some welcome breathing space and puts to bed any suggestion of the club being dragged into a relegation battle.
The performance was far from perfect but Aberdeen fought their way to an important result in a match that was also notable for an impressive display by teen prodigy Fraser Fyvie.
The exciting talent, who celebrated his 17th birthday on Saturday, has been lauded as one of the brightest young players at Pittodrie. He provided the team with fresh energy and vigour when he replaced Derek Young during the Saints clash and posted a timely reminder that McGhee's new approach is likely to be based on blooding more youngsters.
McGhee's planning a major personnel overhaul during the close season to revitalise the team with more than 10 players set to depart. Fyvie will be immune from any such cull with the homegrown midfielder tipped to become a major player in the long-term.
The radical restructuring plan has striking similarities to Eddie Turnbull's famous decision to wield the axe more in 1965. Turnbull has even been credited with laying the foundations for Sir Alex Ferguson's unprecedented Pittodrie glory years. It was perhaps easier for him to make sweeping changes when he booted out 17 players in an era long before player power was around.
McGhee will be under pressure to deliver in the summer but remains confident of finding the right players to shake the club out of its current slumber.
"The changes will be comprehensive because it's clear that's what is needed if we are to make an improvement next season," he said. "It's obvious we are going to lose players in all positions and the way things are shaping up, we could end up needing to take in at least 10 new faces. There will be a natural cull of those who will be out of contract while we also have others who I will choose to move on."
The majority of those heading for the departure gates will be the players at the end of their contracts with skipper Mark Kerr topping the list. McGhee wants his captain to stay but he's yet to give a clear indication of his plans and could opt to move down south and emulate his close friend and former team-mate Lee Miller who left for Middlesbrough in January.
Charlie Mulgrew's contract silence remains another on-going saga and while McGhee would love to retain the ex-Celt he also appears keen to return to England following previous stints at Wolves and Southend. The defender is one of Aberdeen's leading scorers, a sad statistic that reflects one of the problems McGhee is tasked with changing.
Gary McDonald is another mulling over his future while Stuart Duff has emerged from the shadows in recent weeks to bolster his hopes of prolonging his stay with his hometown club.
Derek Young, like Duff, is fighting for his future and has enhanced his prospects after scrapping to win a place in the side. The gritty midfielder has a year left on his deal and even if the Dons try to force him out of Pittodrie he's likely to dig his heels in.
Goalkeeper Stuart Nelson was McGhee's first signing but has done little to impress due mostly to Jamie Langfield's excellent form which means his position is under threat. Another McGhee capture, Jerel Ifil, is also in danger of being moved on this summer after slipping out of the first team picture while Sone Aluko's frustrating season also places a question mark over his longevity.
Former Manchester City man Paul Marshall only joined on a short term contract until the end of the season and is another who falls into the group under threat ahead of the big summer cull. Italian defender Davide Grassi is also nearing the end of his current contract and could make way for new arrivals.
Long serving striker Darren Mackie could also be shipped out after more than a decade of service to the Dons, while McGhee has admitted he expects to be priced out of permanent moves for Plymouth loan duo Jim Paterson and Steven MacLean.
He has already been linked constantly with a raid on his former club Motherwell for midfielder Jim O'Brien. However, O'Brien, cousin of Dons defender Zander Diamond, appears to be a man in demand with Hearts and several English clubs interested.
Landing a player of his quality on a pre-contract would have given McGhee's masterplan an early boost although the chances of sealing his signature now seem slim. There's little doubt that serious change is needed at Pittodrie and the man at the helm will need to rely on his network of contacts to unearth bargain buys during the close season.
It's a brave move from a brave manager who was willing to take on the mantle of returning hero and it'll be more than interesting to see how things pan out this summer.