Dean Campbell: I’m fit and ready to play in Dons Europa League clash

Dean Campbell
Dean Campbell

Dons midfielder Dean Campbell got a taste of Europe sitting on the bench against Burnley but now wants to make his Europa League debut for the “team he loves”.

Lifelong Dons fan and Pittodrie youth graduate Campbell insists he is ready to answer the call if it comes to start against RoPS Rovaniemi in the Europa League on Thursday.

Summer signing Craig Bryson faces a battle to be fit for the tie and has yet to feature in any of the pre-season games.

If Bryson loses his fight to be fit enough to start it is likely 18-year-old Campbell will be pitched in from kick-off against the Finns for his first Euro game time.

Campbell has started all three pre-season friendlies in a central midfield partnership with fellow teen Lewis Ferguson.

Midfielder Stephen Gleeson is out for a month having recently undergone knee surgery.

Campbell is ready and will not be fazed by the occasion.

He said: “I will be ready for whatever the manager wants me to do, whether that is to start.

“I just have to make sure I put in a good week in training and get ready to see what happens.

“I feel that I am ready to go and ready to make an impact.

“I have started every game so far (in pre-season), which is what I wanted to do coming into the new season.

“I came back fit and have got good minutes into my legs as well. I am ready to go.”

Dons boss Derek McInnes aims to sign a midfielder before tomorrow’s 11pm deadline to register a “wildcard” for the Europa League first qualifying round.

Rather than be concerned about the addition of another, more experienced player, in his position Campbell is relishing the challenge.

With another midfield arriving imminently, Campbell accepts the onus is on him to force his way into McInnes’s plans – and stay there.

He said: “I look forward to new players coming in to test myself against seasoned pros.

“I feel like this is a big year for myself.

“Last season, I had a taste of what It takes to become a first team regular.

“There is a lack of central midfielders at the moment, so it is down to me to earn my place in the squad and that is certainly what I look to do. It is completely down to me, as the manager will play who he feels is the best for that position.

“It is down to me to work hard and improve my game as much as I can to be ready to play in that spot and take those opportunities when they come.”

Being pitched into major games has never fazed the Aberdonian, who has a proven track record of rising to the big occasion.

McInnes showed faith in the teenager by making him the youngest player to feature for Aberdeen, making his debut in the 2016-17 season at 16 years and 23 days old.

Campbell was also thrown on with 25 minutes left against Celtic at Parkhead in the final game of the 2017-18 season. It was a must-win game if the Dons were to beat Rangers to runners-up spot and finish second for a fourth successive season and Campbell played a ket role in a 1-0 victory.

Last season, his first start for the Dons came in the Scottish Cup quarter final replay against Rangers at Ibrox.

Again he showed maturity and composure way beyond his years as he excelled in a 2-0 victory.

He said: “I feel there is no pressure when I am on the ball and playing, even when it is the biggest stages. I just relish it and enjoy playing for the team I love.

“I don’t feel like there is too much pressure on myself.

“I know what I can do on the ball and I feel that any game I go into I can control a game of football.”

McInnes has shown he is not adverse to pitching teenagers into the heart of midfield for European debuts.

Last season, he handed teenager Ferguson his first team debut in the Europa League first leg against Premier League Burnley at Pittodrie.

Ferguson got the nod to start ahead of experienced summer signings Gleeson and Chris Forrester.

The catalyst for a magnificent season, Ferguson scored a memorable over-head kick in the 3-1 (after extra-time) loss to Burnley at Turf Moor.

He went on to start every game he was available for. Having been on the bench against Burnley, Campbell wants Euro game time and aims to see off RoPS in the hope it can be the first step of a Euro adventure that could land a big team.

Campbell said: “I was on the bench last year against Burnley, which was a fantastic tie in terms of the name, the team we played and the way we performed.

“It was a brilliant experience to see the Premier League players at that level and we coped more than fine. So, hopefully, we can make a run at it and play bigger teams along the line.”

Aberdeen concluded their pre-season preparations with a 1-1 draw with Inverness Caley Thistle.

As was the case in the previous two friendlies against Connah’s Quay Nomads (0-0) and Peterhead (2-0 win), Campbell anchored the midfield with fellow teen Ferguson.

He said: “The game against Inverness was a tough match.

“It was probably the toughest test we have had going into the Europa League game.

“I felt that we had control of the game for the first 60 to 70 minutes.

“Then, for the last 20 minutes, it became a bit more even.

“Inverness got an equaliser from a set-piece, at which we were disappointed.

“Now the Europa League starts on Thursday and that is our focus.”