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Scott McKenna | Red Matchday Feature

January 6, 2019 12:15 pm Author: Malcolm Panton (Red Matchday Editor)

 

The Dons central defender recently spoke to the Red Matchday editor.

 

A fourth straight second place finish, qualification for Europe for the fifth year running, a League Cup final, wins at Hampden, Celtic Park and Ibrox, 2018 was a year with plenty of highlights for the Dons.

At the heart of many of the best moments though has been Scott McKenna in what was his first calendar year as a first team regular at Pittodrie. Into those 12 months, he has packed a Scotland debut, the captaincy of his country, scoring Aberdeen’s goal of the season, leading the Dons out at Hampden, carrying off the Player and Young Player of the Year awards and scoring the winner at Ibrox.

So what has been Scott’s personal favourite?

 

“It has to be captaining Scotland, closely followed by scoring the winner at Ibrox!

“There are very few people who get the opportunity to captain their country. There are even fewer who get that opportunity at such a young age. It was a massive honour for me and I don’t really know if you can top that?!

“At club level, the goal at Ibrox was memorable more because of the way the game went, being down to ten men and being really up against it, yet still coming through to win. Then my tackle in the last minute made it a special game, one I will remember more than others.”

Evidence of Scott’s maturity comes with the fact that he has stepped up to become Aberdeen’s vice-captain, though it’s a role he plays down with characteristic modesty.

“I don’t really know if I am vice-captain or if it’s Joe because Shinnie is on the pitch every game! Nothing has changed for me. Graeme does delegate the odd job to me, like handing the tickets out on a Friday.

“I do feel more responsibility on the pitch this season. You naturally grow up and have more confidence in yourself and more confidence in driving everyone on. I think it’s always important that, if things aren’t going well that I can get everyone going.

“For example, if I can win my headers or win my tackles, then hopefully that might inspire the rest of the boys on the field to maybe get hold of the ball. Or it might be to try and calm the team down if we are under pressure by taking the ball down and picking a pass, taking the sting out of the game a bit.

“Barry Robson said to me before the cup final, “You will always have more time than you think. If the ball is played to you and someone is pressing, take a touch anyway. You will have more time to deal with it than you realise”. And sometimes in games when there is a frantic atmosphere, you want to try and calm everyone down.

“Other players will do different things to try and get the game turned in our favour or get us on the front foot. Shinnie will throw himself into a tackle or Niall or Gary will try and beat a few players. That is what I have also been trying to do recently, to lead by example.

“I have probably come out of my shell a bit. When you first come in the team as a young boy, you are trying to be quiet and do everything everyone tells you. You just listen. Now I can have a bit more banter because the boys know what I can do and have a bit more respect for me. So maybe I am a bit louder, but other than that I am very much the same.

“I have more confidence on the pitch and about the club as well. People don’t look at you as a young boy any longer, because you are playing week in week out for the first team. You feel more comfortable but I try and stay ‘myself’. It has worked for me so far, so I don’t want to change the way I am.

“I know supporters like to see the kids getting a chance but I know from my experience that there is no point in throwing a young boy in for the sake of it. It is not the best thing for the player, as it can ruin you.

“I remember that I was getting frustrated when I was not in the team but I recognise now that I was not ready – you don’t realise that at the time! It is something I accept now. It is only natural to get frustrated when you are on the bench or sitting in the stand and you want to play.

“I know now that the manager did the best thing for me when he sent me out on loan. He told me to go and learn so when he did put me in the first team, he knew I was ready and that he could trust me. I have managed to stay in since then which proves that he was right. If I had played and I was not ready, and we had lost three or four nil, I might never have played again and who knows where I would be now.

“The manager understands when boys are ready and as frustrated as you get when you are younger, he always has your best interests at heart. He will always do his best to look after you. He is not going to let you get crushed.

“But this year, more than ever, the young players have stepped up to the plate and are taking their chance, which is brilliant. Connor came on in the cup final after the injury to Gary and has not looked back. Max Lowe is young, Lewis Ferguson, Dom Ball, Bruce Anderson, Scott Wright, and Frank Ross, who will hopefully be fit soon. I still consider myself to be quite young! So these are exciting times.

“I know the young players look at what has happened to me and want to do the same. I try to look after myself as best as I can. Hopefully that will give me the chance to go to the highest level. If the young boys want to copy that, then hopefully that can help their careers.

“But in terms of passing on advice to young players, I can’t say too much to them. They have to go out and express themselves and enjoy it. The manager will coach them and give them instructions, so there is no point in me telling them what to do! If they have any questions they will come and ask me and I will give an opinion then. All I really would say is that have to realise just how big an opportunity they have got at Aberdeen and how massive a football club this is.

“I know that from having time at Ayr which is a great club, but completely different in size. To see them doing so well is great, especially because I know a lot of the boys. I played with a few of them down there, quite a few were part of Scotland youth teams, and of course I was up here with Michael Rose, Lawrence Shankland and Danny Harvie. Ayr will do well to hold onto Mikey and Lawrence, they will both move on at some point. It would be brilliant for them.

“No one fancied Ayr at the start of the season as there are a lot of other strong teams in that league. Dundee United and Ross County are big clubs. It just highlights the brilliant job Ian McCall is doing. It is good to see a young team doing well.

“They gave me the chance to learn as much as I have. At a young age 17, 18, it was brilliant for me. When I was there, everyone was great with me and I can’t thank them enough for the chance they gave me. But this is a club on a different level”.

It has been a remarkable 12 months for Scott and plenty of lesser youngsters would have had their head turned by the adulation that his come is way. In contrast, Scott just continues to get on with the job in the same understated way he always has. That’s every bit as impressive as his displays.

“It probably all happened so quickly for me that I did not have time to realise how well I was doing. In the summer I had a bit of time to reflect, and that was when I realised how good a season I’d had.

“But I did not want it just to be one good season, so my focus was very quickly back on my football and thinking about how I can get better this season. If you take your eye off the ball for a second, or start thinking you are better than you are, or get carried away with yourself, you can easily get distracted from your on the field performances. I have tried to stay humble and look to keep improving by working hard every day. Basically, I just get on with it and ignore everything that is going on round about me.

“Having Barry Robson about the place helps. Before, it might just be the strikers who would do extra stuff after training. The defenders might go away and do their own thing. Now, Robbo takes us aside. When he when to Atletico Madrid for his pro-licence, he noticed what their coaches were doing with the defenders, so Tony Docherty will work with the strikers and Barry will work with us.

“It might just be little things we focus on, but it is pure penalty box defending and it is something that will help me, and the team, going forward. The coaches here, they are always trying to improve us. So much work and detail goes into every game. They are always trying to give us that extra one or two percent, that can be the difference between winning and losing.

“When we do boxes, we now use a special tape so there is no debate as to whether the ball is in or out. We do more work and work quicker. Also we have the inflatable mannequins, so they are an obstruction but you can go and attack the ball. Just small things like that allows us to move forward.

“We have done ok this season and generally have not conceded too many goals. We have been relatively tight, we know what our jobs are. We work on that during the week in training and then go out and try and do what we have to do on a matchday.

“We must be doing ok because when I talk to my dad after games, he’s a lot more positive now! He used to be my harshest critic. Now it is the other away around. I will come off after a game thinking I have not done that well and he will be the one saying he thought I did ok.

“The tables have turned a wee bit. But him and my mum have always been there for me since I was a young boy. They would have to take me all over the place, to training and to games.

“I never got to see my dad playing in senior games, but I watched him every Saturday when he was playing in the Juniors. He started off as a striker and as he got older, he filled in as a centre-half. I’m trying to go the other way! He was good in the air so he easily slotted in as a centre-half. Maybe that is where I have get my aerial ability from.

“Everyone looks up to their dad and I was exactly the same. I phone him after every game, whether he is at the match or not. Even if he is on holiday he will try and watch the games on RedTV”.
And finally, the subject the Red Army dreads to think about, Scott’s long-term future. He was the subject of some big money bids in the summer and the newspapers have already started speculating on what will happen in January. Hopefully, the only place the big defender will be going this month is the Middle East!

“There is nothing for me to be thinking about at the moment, so I don’t waste any time on it. If clubs are to make offers in January, then Aberdeen will tell me. They will decide what happens. Ultimately, until an offer is accepted, there is nothing for me to worry about and I will just concentrate on being an Aberdeen player until then.

“All I can say is I love being here, I love how friendly the club is. I have got to know everyone over the past six years as a full-time player at Pittodrie, all the staff, I get on with them very well. I feel so comfortable here, it is all I know in terms of a day to day football environment. Betty, who works for Sodexho, is 80 years of age and I speak to her every day. I can walk into every office and sit down for half an hour and everyone will speak to you. It would be strange going into a different environment.

“But that is for another day. We will get a week off at the start of January and then we travel to Dubai. After that we will be preparing for the Scottish Cup game against Stenhousemuir. That is all I am focusing on.”

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