Brown out to repair broken Dons
Craig Brown is facing one of the most important summers of his long managerial career.
The Aberdeen boss has vowed to drastically rebuild in the wake of their 4-0 Scottish Cup semi-final defeat to Celtic at Hampden. That result, which takes the Hoops' goal tally to 21 in just five meetings with Aberdeen this season, has effectively ended the Dons' campaign.
They now head into the split with five meaningless fixtures to complete a miserable season, but Brown refuses to be downbeat. Instead, he's come out fighting ahead of a close season that will see several first-team squad members head out of the Pittodrie door for the last time.
Jamie Langfield, Mark Howard, Zander Diamond, Derek Young, Chris Maguire, David McNamee, Rob Milsom and Sone Aluko will all be free agents this summer. Brown will also lose the services of Nikola Vujadinovic, Steven Smith and Nick Blackman when their loan deals expire at the end of the season.
The former Scotland coach is expected to offer Langfield, Milsom and Aluko extended contracts although it remains to be seen whether they'll accept and sign on again for the reds. It also seems certain that Diamond will part company with his first senior club this summer after nine years at Pittodrie, with Hearts reportedly leading the race to sign him.
Maguire, who has risen in stature this season and also claimed his first Scotland cap, is also set to depart, with English sides Blackburn Rovers and Derby County both linked with the striker - though neither club has yet to confirm their interest.
However, if Maguire does go, Aberdeen would at least be entitled to compensation of around £370,000 for him as they've nurtured and developed him for a number of years. Brown has constantly urged Maguire to continue his education at the Dons but the lure of a lucrative move south looks as if it will be too hard to resist for the 22-year-old.
In order to source new players on a limited budget, Brown - who will celebrate his 71st birthday in July - will have to use all his managerial wisdom and call upon all his contacts. However, he has also warned any contract offers he makes won't remain on the table indefinitely.
"The Aberdeen supporters deserve a team they can be proud of, not one that embarrasses them in the big games," Brown said. "I know I face a huge rebuilding job but I will get it done and quickly. I hear managers asking fans to give them time to build a team, but that's only an excuse.
"I know I haven't got a lot of time to get the job done but I've got to build up a team quickly if we want to keep the Aberdeen fans with us. The backing they gave us at Hampden, even at 4-0 down, was just incredible and they deserve better. Every player gave his best against Celtic but it's clear that even their best won't be enough to give the Aberdeen fans what they want and deserve."
Brown is still clearly hurting at the manner in which his side lost to Neil Lennon's Bhoys, a result that virtually signals the end of their season. But he's already setting his sights on revamping an Aberdeen squad in desperate need of fresh impetus.
"I have already admitted I would like to secure Chris Maguire and Sone Aluko on new deals," the Dons boss said. "If we get them I will be pleased about that. If we don't it would make the rebuilding job even bigger because finding another two players of their calibre would be very tough.
"It would be unfair of me to comment about any of the others until we have spoken face to face and those talks will be held over the next week or so. But we will be looking for those we want to stay to make a commitment to the club. I don't want to hang about because the battle to get replacements for anyone who decides it's time to move on will be fierce.
"I will also face the most unpleasant job a manager has of telling players they are no longer wanted at the club. I hope to have a much clearer picture on where we stand within the next 10 days or so. We will be setting them deadlines and if they fail to meet them we will assume they aren't staying. We can't afford to hang about waiting for anyone."
Dons director of football Willie Miller has reassured Brown he'll get the funds to finance his rebuilding programme but even with cash to splash he still faces a fight to get it right on the pitch.