GEORGE Yule has an idea of where Aberdeen should be in Scottish football and they are 90 minutes away from getting there.
Supporters of a certain age can recall the club going to Easter Road and wrapping up the 1980 league championship with a victory over Hibernian. Those days are long gone but three points in the same fixture this afternoon would elevate Aberdeen to second in the table, leading the challenge on Celtic. The club is so unfamiliar with being at this end of the division, at this stage of the season, that no-one could be surprised if there were nosebleeds all round. Yule simply regards it as Aberdeen beginning to punch their weight again.
One of the signs of mediocrity is silence. As Aberdeen perennially bumped around in the wrong half of the league for much of the past 15 years, it became a club with less and less to say for itself. That seemed to change when Yule became executive vice-chairman in the summer. It wasn't long before the millionaire North Sea oil and gas businessman was making declarations about finishing second in the Clydesdale Bank Premier League and taking the challenge to Celtic. Suddenly manager Craig Brown had someone in the boardroom who was going around lighting fires around the place, as if to waken everyone up.
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New arrivals can quickly sound silly when they go around making bold statements but Yule has seemed refreshing and interesting because, unusually, Aberdeen have shown consistently sound form on the pitch.
"What people need to understand first of all is this," Yule began. "There is no conflict at all between Craig Brown and I in terms of our ambitions or expectations. A club this size needs to be challenging for the league. Do we expect to win it? Absolutely not. With the resources Celtic have you expect Celtic to win the league. Do we expect to aim for second place? Absolutely, 100%. Craig is the same. I go out there expecting to win every game, even if we don't do it. Anyone at the club who expects anything other than a win on a matchday is doing the club a disservice. Reality kicks in, I'm not an idealist with my head buried in the sand, but I have an ambition to challenge for the title."
There's no mystery about Aberdeen's improvement in 2012. In January and again in the summer they signed familiar, established, senior names: Russell Anderson, Gavin Rae, Stephen Hughes, Jonny Hayes, Niall McGinn, Gary Naysmith, Mark Reynolds. There was not an unknown overseas player nor English lower-league journeyman among them. In Ryan Fraser they introduced a direct, brave winger who, when not getting hacked down by opposition defenders, has further illuminated their season. Despite the setbacks of a Scottish Communities League Cup exit to St Mirren and a tame home performance against Celtic last weekend, the foundations have been built for a highly promising campaign.
The form has been satisfying for Yule, of course, but he has also tried to change the club's general attitude. Stewart Milne, the Aberdeen chairman, has never been an outspoken figure and he has tended to surround himself with directors of similar discretion. The club has continued to be influential in SPL politics but it has lacked a voice. Yule's appointment may change that, and Milne himself had recognised the need for a change of emphasis. "I think the common perception is that the club had lost its way a bit in terms of community engagement," said Yule. "I can understand that a bit because when you're unsuccessful you don't really have an appetite for showing your face in the town. So people in the club, at all levels, kinda went into their shell. What I'm saying to them now is that there is an opportunity this season. There has been major restructuring in the board at Pittodrie, there's been quite a bit of change in the SPL because of the Rangers stuff, so look on this as an opportunity to improve.
"What has been missing at the club has been visible leadership. My opinion is that part of the reason for that is that it's less hassle to hide in your shell when things aren't going well than to go out there in front of a camera. I just need to be very careful that I don't build up heightened expectations because it's taken the guts of two decades for the club to get in this position. But I think they needed to be more visible and the leadership needed to be more visible both outwith and inside the club. That's not to imply anything against the incumbent [Milne] because he was carrying a huge workload on one pair of shoulders.
"The club has let fans down time and time again over the past couple of decades. We are in a fortunate position in this part of the country because it's a fairly affluent region, we're not in competition with another professional club like they are in Dundee, Edinburgh and Glasgow, but we are in competition for providing entertainment and value. We have to think more about being a customer-based business and we need to provide value for our customers and look after them. If we don't look after them the results are self-evident. But there is no question that there is a latent support in this area despite all their letdowns."
Enormous issues hang over Aberdeen. The club doesn't know what to do about a stadium given that staying at Pittodrie is not a long-term option and a proposed move to a £38m ground at Loirston, on the southern outskirts of the city, collapsed when Aberdeen City Council blocked plans for ancillary training complex. Other sites are being considered. There is also a debt of £15m sitting over Pittodrie like a black cloud. "Problems are there to be met head-on," said Yule. "But we need to set out our stall on how to address it, and a big part of the business is results-driven so it makes an awful lot of sense to ensure that you don't actually cut back on your core product, which is the playing side.
"You're speaking to someone who, in business terms, had a £54m debt three years ago. So the debt we have now, albeit it's all relative, doesn't give me sleepless nights."
These are early days, but Aberdeen look to have a team worth watching and a voice worth hearing.