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Dec 2, 2010

Dons begin search for frugal boss

After Mark McGhee's reign finally came to an end on Wednesday, the hunt for Aberdeen's latest manager. The club parted company with their former striker and his assistants, Scott Leitch and Colin Meldrum, following a disastrous spell at the helm.

A short club statement confirmed their departure and sparked speculation linking a number of bosses with the vacancy. Aberdeen chairman Stewart Milne will shortly announce details of interim arrangements.

Scotland Under-21 manager Billy Stark, who also served the club during his playing career, and Inverness Caley Thistle's Terry Butcher are two of the candidates who have been linked with the post. Former Hibs managers John Collins and John Hughes are also in the frame as both are free agents and could start the rebuilding job almost immediately.

However, one surprise name has emerged as a potential surprise contender and caught the attention of the Red Army. Shamrock Rovers boss Michael O'Neill, who had a brief loan spell at Pittodrie under Alex Miller, would be keen on the post.

At just 41, the former Northern Ireland international is still learning his trade but would be within Aberdeen's price bracket. The Dons, who were forced to pay compensation to land McGhee from Motherwell 18 months ago, will be governed by a tight budget, but with the club looking towards Ireland for untapped talent, O'Neill ticks all the boxes. The former Newcastle United, Dundee United, Hibs and Coventry midfielder cut his managerial teeth at Brechin City, which is situated just 40 miles from the Granite City.

Whoever succeeds McGhee will face a tough challenge to inspire a group of players who have undoubtedly underperformed this season. They are all still licking their wounds from their recent 9-0 humiliation at the hands of Celtic at Parkhead, a result that left McGhee a dead man walking.

The former Celtic and Newcastle striker was handed a brief stay of execution following that hammering before subsequent defeats to Inverness Caley Thistle, Rangers, St Johnstone and Kilmarnock put him out of his misery. The 53-year-old appeared to be fighting a losing battle from day one after suffering a 5-1 home defeat in his first game in charge to Czech side SK Sigma Olomoux. The return leg saw them lose 3-0 to complete a forgettable 8-1 aggregate loss.

McGhee also took the unpopular decision to axe legendary goalkeeping coach Jim Leighton not long after taking over, replacing him with Meldrum. It was a brave move that failed to pay off, although results on the pitch rather than politics off it ultimately sealed his inevitable fate.

A Scottish Cup defeat to Raith Rovers at home in February was another low point for McGhee, and the man who engineered that famous win at Pittodrie, John McGlynn, has also been mentioned as a potential appointment. McGlynn has impressed working with a limited budget at Raith and is also a close ally of Dons skipper Paul Hartley from their days at Hearts together.

The Dons' announcement came just a couple of hours after the SPL decided that all the weekend's fixtures, including Celtic's visit to Pittodrie, were being postponed because of the severe weather. That provides the club will some breathing space ahead of their next fixture away to Hearts on December 11, although there is no timescale on naming a successor.

There's little doubt the lure of the job will still attract a high number of applicants, even though the club languish second bottom of the table. The club still commands a level of respect even on the European circuit largely down to Sir Alex Ferguson's amazing legacy.

For whoever becomes the club's 21st boss, though, it remains an extremely tough task. The new manager will have to be creative with any transfer funds while also relying heavily on the younger players coming through the system. It won't be easy, which is why the board will refuse to be rushed into making another hasty and expensive appointment.

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