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Milne finally gets a return on heavy emotional investment

FOR a man approaching his 64th birthday, Stewart Milne can still cover the ground as energetically as the players he has helped sign over the years.

Stewart Milne has been reinvigorated by the arrival of Derek McInnes at Pittodrie. Picture: SNS
Stewart Milne has been reinvigorated by the arrival of Derek McInnes at Pittodrie. Picture: SNS

The Aberdeen chairman and major shareholder was everywhere in the immediate aftermath of his side's League Cup triumph over Inverness Caledonian Thistle on Sunday, greeting old friends at pitch-side, disappearing up the tunnel for a while, before clambering back through the main stand to conduct various interviews in the Celtic Park press box and surrounding areas. All the while the grin of a man whose long-term project had finally come to fruition never once left his face.

Plenty of Aberdeen fans will have felt they had earned this moment after years of disappointment and, in Milne's case, it is literally the case. He has invested heavily in the club, both financially and emotionally, for next to no return. For a businessman whose building empire has been a runaway triumph, the consistent underachievement of his football club for most of his 17 years in charge must have been a source of persistent frustration and regret.

Sunday's triumph, then, belonged to him as much as it did to manager Derek McInnes, the players or the Aberdeen supporters. There was a rush to acknowledge that. Well-wishers, including a lurking English gentleman in a natty Gatsby-style cap, offered a handshake, a congratulatory pat on the back, or, in some cases, bowed in a "we're not worthy" gesture towards the man who helped make it all possible. Given Milne has put up with plenty of abuse from disgruntled supporters over the years, this could be considered something of a significant turnaround.

He was not of a mind to interrupt his trophy-induced delirium to start settling scores, although he could not help indulging his pragmatic side when told of his new cult hero status. "I will be happy the day they start to throw £10 notes at me," he laughed, thus demonstrating that, even at their seemingly most carefree and happy, multi-millionaires never lose focus on how they reached that status in the first place. "It means so much to me knowing we have thousands of Aberdeen fans who are now very, very happy. I am one of them."

If running Aberdeen can be considered Milne's hobby, then it must be up there with looking after flesh-eating ants with a sense of wanderlust as a relaxing and stress-free pastime. Any owner's investment in a football club can only ever be as successful as the managers they hire and the players those managers subsequently sign, effectively reducing their level of control to how extensive their recruitment process is and how much money they then give to said managers. Despite years in the doldrums - the cup defeats by Raith Rovers, Queen of the South, Queen's Park et al - it never really crossed Milne's mind that it was maybe time to sell up and let somebody else have a go. Cradling in his arms the League Cup trophy, bedecked in red and white ribbons, must have felt like a form of vindication.

"I can't honestly say I have ever reached a point where I thought I have had enough and I wanted to walk away from the club," he added. "But I have always said if there is somebody out there who believes he can do a better job than me and is prepared to make the level of commitment both cash-wise and time-wise, then I would be prepared to look at things.

"It is not so much about the money [invested]. I think I have put a big part of my personal life into Aberdeen FC. There have been a lot of difficult moments and pain over that long period of time where there have been no trophies. But Sunday made it all worth it."

Next Tuesday marks the first anniversary of McInnes being appointed Craig Brown's successor and the transformation has been as dramatic as it has been quick. The impact has been felt in the boardroom, as well as out on the pitch. "Derek has brought new life to the club," added Milne. "He has had a massive impact not only on the football operation but the club as a whole. I find him a fantastic guy to work with and I think we are pretty much on the same page in what we are setting out to do. He has probably given me renewed energy as well."

McInnes has been hailed as something of a Messiah in the north-east but Milne noted the groundwork laid by his predecessor as well. "Derek and Tony [Docherty, assistant manager] have done a fantastic job since they have taken over but they inherited the bones of a very good squad from Craig Brown and Archie Knox," he said.

"I certainly appreciated the job Archie and Craig did when they came in. They started to pull together the bones of the squad."

From that platform, McInnes and Docherty have started to construct what could be a lasting legacy. "The way they have progressed the squad over the course of the season has been great and I definitely don't think our League Cup win has been a fluke."

There is, of course, the William Hill Scottish Cup still to play for as well, with Milne planning to interrupt a family holiday to come home and watch the semi-final against St Johnstone on April 13.

"Unfortunately, that game comes in the middle of our Easter holidays when I am away in Turkey but it is still my intention to come back because Derek really has something going," said Milne. "We, as a club, need to do everything we can to keep that momentum up."

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