Despite losing the Scottish Cup final in the dying minutes of the game, Derek McInnes had every right to crack a smile as the full-time whistle blew. Once again it has been an impressive season by Aberdeen under McInnes – finishing second behind Celtic (and more importantly ahead of Rangers in third) plus a cup final appearance highlights the superb work that has been done by McInnes and his team. It’s no wonder then that his name is top of the shortlists for several top jobs down south in England with Sunderland set to approach him in the upcoming weeks. The Black Cats are on the hunt for a new boss following the resignation of David Moyes just days after the club dropped into the championship.
After three years at Pittodrie, many believe now is the time for McInnes to move on and its hard to argue with. With Celtic so far out ahead in terms of squad quality and financial resources plus new competition in the form of a resurgent Rangers side under new boss Pedro Caixinha next season, Aberdeen are unlikely to better their achievements to date. Added into this, several key figures in the Aberdeen’s side including Niall McGinn and captain Ryan Jack are set to leave meaning that McInnes faces another rebuilding job yet again on under tight financial constraints. The question that McInnes is bound to be asking himself is whether he has taken Aberdeen as far as he can and whether now is the time to draw a line under it and move on.
Whilst it may seem like a no brainer to many, McInnes does have several reasons to pause for thought. He has settled well in Aberdeen with his family and appears to be enjoying life in the north-east of Scotland. With Rangers out of the picture for a majority of his tenure as Dons boss, he has had the chance to really cement his side as the second best side in the land behind Celtic. He even managed to push them close last season and at one point looked set to claim messiah status as Aberdeen headed towards an unexpected title. But sadly that charge eventually ran out of steam, Celtic regained top spot and with it snapped up the title much to McInnes frustration. Moving over the border may have its appeal to most Scottish coaches but for McInnes it’s tainted having already tried and failed down in England. A disappointing spell in charge of Bristol City was a wake up call for McInnes who had until then been full of optimism and confidence. The relegation battle and off field conflicts dented his pride. The move back to Scotland helped restore them but instilled a sense of cautiousness. Despite all this, if Sunderland do come calling it’s quite simply a job he must take.
No disrespect to Aberdeen but Sunderland are a bigger team with a lot of potential given the right appointment and change in circumstances. They may have dropped into the Championship but have all the right ingredients to bounce back, perhaps not at the first attempt but within a few seasons. The Sunderland job however will be no easy task. He will inherit a squad so in need of transformation that even David Moyes didn’t think he was up for the challenge. McInnes will have to oversee the overhaul of the existing first team squad whilst managing expectations off it with an owner so detached from football that it sometimes feels like he has forgotten that he actually owns a team. He will need to manage in a tight budget, not something he is unfamiliar with but this will be a “tight budget” based on Championship levels. No more pondering which £1,000 a week player to have in your team and which one to jettison to balance the budget.
But these are all challenges that McInnes is now better positioned to handle. He has grown as a manager, something his growing reputation supports. A move to Rangers looked likely before the surprise appointment of Caixinha but it could be a blessing in disguise. McInnes deserves his shot at the big time once more and a move to a club like Sunderland could be the perfect fit. Much is expected from McInnes in the future (many tip him as a future Scotland manager) but for now he must show that he is ready to step up and let his star shine on a more global scale at the Stadium of Light.