RedMatchday Interview with Russell Anderson
“If someone had said that we would finish third in the league, win a cup and get into a semi-final of another cup competition, then that would equate to real progress having been made. From that point of view it was a successful season, but you can't help but think it could have been even better and so hopefully that will be what drives us on this season to go one step further and to keep improving. The manager has added a couple of players and, at the time of doing this interview, was looking to add a couple more. He will always be looking to strengthen the team and to strengthen the squad, so hopefully we will have a better team than last season and if we do, we should hopefully have another successful campaign.
“Initially after the Motherwell game it was hard to take that we'd dropped to third, but then you go away on holiday, you sit and reflect on last season and just realise you have to get on with it. It was the manner of the defeat that was hardest to take. We deserved to get more than we did on the day but sometimes these things happen in football. There is no point in looking back, there is nothing we can do about it.
“Obviously we want this to be happening on a regular basis and for this not just to be a one off, but it would be foolish for us to think that it will come easy this season because we know it will take a lot more hard work.”
The best seasons are built on the foundations of the hard yards put in away from the public gaze in preseason. If we can get all Alan Partridge for a minute, fail to prepare, prepare to fail…
Russell “Preseason was hard! But that is just old age I think!” admits Russell. “This must be my twentieth preseason. I did my first one when I was 16 and now I am 36. Things have changed a lot over the years. The days of coming back way over weight have long gone. We all get a programme to take away with us that we have to do, so that when we come back we are not starting from scratch.
“Preseason was slightly different to last season because we have had slightly less time to prepare for our first competitive game and to do all the things we did last season. We had time to go away to England and have a proper week of fitness to build a base last season, then we came back to Aberdeen for a little while before we went to Ireland to play games. Time was against us this year so the management had to include the St Partick's game a bit earlier than they would normally have done, but most of the work in Dublin was fitness based because you do need to give yourself a good foundation for the season ahead.
“There has to be a balance between pushing the players hard to get the work in and not going so far that you pick up injuries. Everyone got through the majority of the sessions. One or two missed bits and pieces, but overall the coaches were pleased with the amount of hard work the players have done and that sets us up nicely for the European games.
“We got to experience the work that Graham Kirk does last season during the campaign, so nothing we have done in pre-season came as a surprise to the players. The programme has been well thought out and there has been plenty of preparation gone into it and that has paid off because as I say the players have got through it without picking up any injuries. The improvement in the fitness over the past two weeks is there for everyone to see”.
The reason for the early start, the return to European football for the Dons and the two legs against FK Daugava Riga. Before last Thursday Russell was one of the few at the club who have experienced a European night at Pittodrie and he is relishing the chance of adding to those memories.
“My first game was against the Moldovan side Nistru Otaci in 2002. We played the first leg at home but I can't remember much about the game, apart from Darren scoring a late goal – we won 1-0. We then went over there and drew 0-0. I think we were pretty comfortable but we had to play well over there, the whole team played well that night.
Russell “Then it was the same for the next game against Hertha Berlin with the first leg being at home. We had a really good crowd that night despite the fact the game kicked off early for the purposes of German TV. They were a decent team. We drew 0-0 at Pittodrie, we had a couple of half chances, but could not get a goal to take with us to Germany. I remember the away leg a lot better. I remember they went down to ten men and at that stage we thought we had a really good chance of going through but then Eric Deloumeaux got sent off in the second half which levelled things up.
“The one thing I remember most about the experience was the fine lines between winning and losing at that level. In the closing stages I had a header that was cleared off the line with about two minutes to go and then they went down the pitch and scored. There was then no time for us to come back. It was really disappointing. It was still a really good experience but so disappointing in the way we ended up going out of the competition because we were as good as them over the two legs.
“I remember their stadium was being renovated for the world cup and half of it was a building site. You could still envisage how the stadium was going to pan out and I have obviously seen it since, they made a remarkable job of it, but at the time it was a strange kind of atmosphere and environment to play in.”
Aberdeen's most memorable recent European run was one that Russell could only watch from afar having moved to Sunderland in the summer of 2007 after helping the Dons qualify for the UEFA Cup.
“I would be lying if I said I was not a little bit envious of the boys! But I was still delighted for Seve and everyone at the club. It was unbelievable the run the team had and it was great to watch. For a team like Aberdeen who had not done that well leading up to 2008 when they had qualified for Europe, it really was something special because it was not expected.
“I think it is obviously more difficult for a team like Aberdeen to have that kind of run nowadays because of the amount of games you have to play to even get to the group stages. In 2008 Aberdeen only had to play Dnipro over two legs but this season we would have to play the four rounds and eight games. So common sense tells you it will be a lot more difficult, especially when some of the bigger teams come in and you have to play them over two legs. But it is still possible and we will be going into the first game believing we can do well and progress”.
“We lost a numbers of players in the summer but have taken a few in. The obvious point is that we are down in numbers but I know the manager is working hard to increase the size of the squad and improve the competition for places but I think the quality was there last season and I think the players we have in the dressing room will be looking to improve so hopefully that will benefit the team. It is always a case of the team evolving and hopefully that will be evident over the course of the season.
“Although the young players are young in years, players like Ryan Jack have played an awful lot of games. I think it is good to have a mix of ages, of experiences, of different qualities throughout the team.
“I was really pleased when I heard that Shay had signed. You are never too sure because he did well for us last season and you appreciate that there would have been other clubs in for him so it was very good news for the club. He settled in very well last season and with him being here now for the foreseeable future he can go on and keep impressing and improving.
“I roomed with Scott Brown in Dublin. He is a really nice guy. I think he will fit into the squad very well because it is an easy squad to integrate into. Once he gets his family up here, he will settle in very quickly and I am sure he is looking forward to the season ahead and the new challenge.
Russell “At a lot of clubs you will find there are groups, cliques within a squad. There is an acceptance that everyone does get on with everybody. There are players in that dressing room who will be strong and say things when they need to be said on the pitch if someone is not pulling their weight, but off the pitch I think we have a good squad of players that have all got the right attitude and want to do well for themselves and each other”.
Just as important as the new boys was the fact that, along with Barry Robson, Russell has signed on for another campaign after playing such a pivotal role last term.
“I don't think there was one specific day when I thought, “Right I am going to play on”, but the way the season was going, I did think I would like to have another crack at it because I was playing and the team were doing well. As you become older the game in some ways becomes easier, but in some ways it gets harder! I am not as quick as I used to be but having the ability to read the game and knowing when to stand-off for example just comes with experience from playing games.
“Obviously we were that busy that it kind of got put off and things were done a lot later than they might have been, but it just happened naturally and once the manager spoke to me, it did not take very long to get things sorted because I was delighted to stay for another year.
“I did speak to my family about it, but they knew if I was going to get offered a new deal I would take it! So there was not much discussion there to be honest. My family were very supportive and the kids were delighted so it was a pretty easy decision to make. It was great to sign on for another season and I am sure Barry is thinking the same as me. Hopefully we can repay the manager and contribute to the campaign ahead.
“Having such an enjoyable season made it an even easier decision. This club is a good place to come in and work at any time, but when you are winning as often as we were last season it is a great place to come into every morning. I have heard a lot of ex players say you are a long time retired and to play as long as you can. I will play on this season as see what happens after that
“I played more games than I thought I might last season. When I broke a bone in my hand in October, it was probably the wrong time for me to miss games and then, at the end of the season, when I maybe needed to miss a few, there were so many games coming thick and fast making that impossible. But it was easy to keep playing. Playing alongside Mark, who had an exceptional season, and also Jamie as well was a lot of fun. Mark was rightly rewarded for his performances by being named in the team of the year and by picking up the AFC Player of the Year Award. We have built up a good understanding from playing a lot of games together. I let him do all the running which he is very good at! It was not just the two of them though, we had a lot of successes throughout the team. For most of the campaign we had a settled back four, which also helped. If you look at the team it was pretty consistent and we had a tight knit group.
Russell “I would be a little surprised if I played the same number of games as I did last season to be honest. I played more games that I would ever have hoped to but that is the way it panned out and I was delighted with the fact I was able to play as many games. Touch wood, I can stay fit again through the season and like everyone else, I will just be trying to get a place in the team. There will be a lot of good games involved in early on, especially like the one this evening in Europe. Then domestically we have a lot to look forward to as well”.
Winning the League Cup last term was a real breakthrough for the club, but Russell isn't one to dwell on the past.
“It meant an awful lot to everyone at the time, but you can't sit there and contemplate it because there is a lot more to play for now. I think when my career does finish, it will be something that I will look back on and it will be good to watch the highlights and everything that went on afterwards. We enjoyed it at the time but it is done now so there is no real point in sitting reminiscing about it because that won't do you any good for the forthcoming season.
“The expectation levels amongst the fans will be higher but they will also be amongst the players and that is no bad thing. For too many years we were in the bottom six trying to fight our way back up. The bar has been raised and it is now up to the players and coaching staff to make sure we reach these new heights this season and for many seasons to come”.