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Jack of all trades

WILLIE Miller's affinity with Aberdeen Football Club will never end, even if he experiences a pang of regret every now and then that he is no longer formally in the club's employ.

It is inevitable that Ryan Jack will be targeted for a big move, says Willie MIller who believes the midfielder has serious qualityPhotograph: SNS
It is inevitable that Ryan Jack will be targeted for a big move, says Willie MIller who believes the midfielder has serious qualityPhotograph: SNS

At least his attachment lives on: through the burgeoning careers of the players who passed through his doors while he was in charge of the club's youth development wing.

While the products of his labours have been scattered far and wide - Ryan Fraser is at Bournemouth, Mitch Megginson at Dumbarton and Declan McManus is currently banging in the goals on loan at Morton - in Miller's opinion the jewel in the crown still plies his trade at Pittodrie. Flanked by fellow youth products Peter Pawlett and Clark Robertson, Ryan Jack may not automatically collect all the headlines but he displays a maturity and assuredness in midfield far greater than his 22 years. This local kid from the Granite City had played every minute of the club's domestic and European adventures this season and Miller believes it is only a matter of time before he gets the attention he deserves.

"When Stewart Milne let me go I was disappointed, but when chairmen make their mind up to have change, it is really their call," said Miller. "I'm a wee bit disappointed I am not still part of the development side, but it gives me a lot of pleasure watching the young boys come through. There are players like Ryan Jack, Peter Pawlett and Clark Robertson plus Ryan Fraser and a number of others who have come through the development system and moved on from the club.

"Jack in particular I think has been outstanding but he still just goes under the radar every week. Nobody ever seems to highlight his quality while other players get touted for big money moves but I think it is inevitable that the spotlight will end up on Ryan Jack. He can play different positions and plays with a lot of composure and control for someone of his age. But he always had that. Even before he was 16 you could spot that he was a player who had potential and now that potential will come to the fore."

Miller stops short of recommending that his former Aberdeen team-mate Gordon Strachan immediately includes Jack in the squad for Scotland's forthcoming European Championship qualifying matches - the time for experimentation may have gone - but in general he sees no reason why Derek McInnes's will not end up celebrating another hugely positive campaign for their club.

Having guided the club to their first silverware in 24 years last season, the manager has bought himself valuable time in the eyes of the support, as witnessed in the rather charitable reaction one of his substitutions elicited from them in the home leg against Groningen recently.

It was perhaps, as Miller almost hinted, the kind of leeway even a club legend such as he wasn't always afforded during his time in charge. "I don't think Derek can do too much wrong in the eyes of the fans, that is for sure," Miller said. "And I know the chairman rates him very highly. He has brought a cup back to the city for the first time in 20 years - so that buys you loads of breathing space.

"I remember sitting at the Groningen game. It was getting towards the end, it was 0-0 and Derek was looking to make a substitution. He took a striker off and put a striker on. I tell you, if he didn't have that cup tucked away in the boardroom then he would have been getting dog's abuse. If any other manager had done that at 0-0 the fans would have been expecting two strikers on, to have a little go at home. But he did it and they were just silent; there was no reaction whatsoever. He has got the fans in his pocket just now and I don't see any reason why that shouldn't continue. This squad is a very good squad and I think they should have another good season."

What exactly represents another positive season is open to interpretation. Aberdeen were pipped by Motherwell at the death for second place in the SPFL Premiership last season, so Miller feels a realistic goal is to make sure that they are best of the rest this year, while biting a sizeable chunk out of the 31 points by which they trailed behind Celtic.

Maintaining their fine record in one-off matches against the Parkhead side - who Aberdeen beat in both the Scottish Cup and the league last year - would also help fuel the feelgood factor in the North East.

"The squad Derek has put together over the past 18 months is one that looks strong enough to be second," Miller said. "In fact, I thought they would have been second last season, and they've strengthened over the summer. Overtaking Celtic would be a step too far but at least if they could put up a challenge it would be good for the game in Scotland.

"I think the club has a right to expect that, the manager has that right and so do the fans. They want a good strong challenge from Aberdeen and if they could half the points differential from last season, that would be progress."

l Willie Miller was speaking at the launch of Fergie Rises: How Britain's Greatest Football Manager was made at Aberdeen. By Michael Grant and published by Aurum Press.

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