There will be little distance separating Aberdeen and Celtic out in Dubai – and Derek Whyte reckons they will also be close in a title race in May.
The Dons and defending champions will both be based in warm weather training camps in Dubai this week.
Based in the sprawling millionaires’ paradise for 14 years, Whyte is a former captain of both the Dons and Celtic.
Aberdeen sit just three points behind Brendan Rodgers’ defending champions and Whyte hopes it can be just as close in May to set up a grandstand finale.
A former centre-back himself, Whyte has urged Aberdeen’s wanted man Scott McKenna to stick around to help the Reds’ Premiership and Scottish Cup bid.
Aberdeen rejected bids of £7 million from Aston Villa and £3.5m from Celtic for McKenna in the summer and anticipate more interest in the January window.
Whyte, 50, said: “If Aberdeen come back from Dubai and continue playing the same way they were in December it will be an exciting second half of the season for them.
“This is the first season for a long time that the competition in the Premiership has been so close.
“Aberdeen are there, as are Rangers under the management of Steven Gerrard.
“It is great for the league and for the supporters as well as Kilmarnock are also in the mix.
“The Scottish game needed that because it is boring if a team runs away with the league and are 20 or 10 points ahead.
“It is no fun if the league is over by January – you want it to go right to the last game of the season for the title and European places.
“That is exciting and hopefully it can go right down to the wire for Aberdeen.
“Aberdeen don’t have the budget of Celtic and Rangers.
“However, Derek McInnes and Tony Docherty have done absolutely brilliantly with the money they have got.”
A Scotland international, Whyte was signed by Aberdeen from Middlesbrough for £100,000 by Alex Miller in 1998. He spent five seasons at Pittodrie, made 154 appearances and captained the Dons in the 2000 Scottish Cup final at Hampden, a 4-0 loss to Rangers.
Whyte aims to catch up with the Dons while they are out in Dubai.
Last January he saw centre-back Scott McKenna in action up close when he played in the 2-0 loss in Dubai to Lokomotiv Tashkent of Uzbekistan.
In the lead up to that friendly last year the Dons kicked out a £300,000 bid for McKenna from Championship Hull City.
McKenna’s standing, and value, has rocketed since then.
As well as rejecting summer bids from Aston Villa and Celtic, Premier League Wolves have also had McKenna scouted with a view to a potential move.
Whyte reckons the 22-year- old should remain at the Dons until at least the end of the season – unless a club makes a mega offer the Pittodrie board can’t refuse.
He said: “I am sure Derek, the club and Stewart Milne will try to keep hold of McKenna.
“However, Aberdeen have a limit to what they can pay.
“There are guys in the Championship that are earning £20,000 to £30,000 per week.
“It is a very short career and I can understand if players do want to move. However, I don’t see why McKenna cannot see through this season.
“Then if there are any bids after that a decision can be made then.
“It is more difficult for a player to go half-way through the season as you have not completed the campaign with the club.
“Derek and the club have given McKenna the chance to play so I think he should honour that and go at the end of the season.
“However, it is up to the player and the club if they get any kind of money and want to cash in on him.
“Ultimately they probably know that at one stage he will go and they will benefit from that money.”
In the last year McKenna has progressed to a level where boss Derek McInnes is convinced when he does exit Pittodrie it will be to an English Premier League side.
Since the warm weather camp in the Middle East last January, he has broken into the Scotland team, captained his county and become an international regular under Alex McLeish.
Whyte said: “McKenna is still relatively young.
“I think centre-halves, of which I was one myself, don’t get to their best until they are around 28 to 30 years old.
“That is when they really reach their peak because by then you have been in so many situations before in games.
“McKenna is a great player and hopefully Aberdeen can hold onto him.
“He has a good stature and attacks the ball well.
“He is quick, aggressive, good in the air and can also play a bit.
“It is amazing how he has progressed in the last year and moved into the Scotland squad.”