Former Dons winger Ben Thornley today revealed he would have stayed at Pittodrie – had then-boss Ebbe Skovdahl made it clear he was leaving.
A member of Manchester United’s “Class of 92”, Thornley was tipped for greatness alongside team-mates like David Beckham, Paul Scholes, Ryan Giggs and the Neville brothers.
But at 18 his rise was derailed by a career-threatening knee injury just as he had broken into Sir Alex Ferguson’s first team squad.
Thornley, 43, arrived at Pittodrie on a two-year deal in August 2001 and helped the Reds qualify for Europe.
However, he left to join Blackpool halfway through the final year of his contract.
Thornley, whose autobiography is out on Monday, today insisted he was desperate to remain a Don and would have stayed if Skovdahl had confirmed he also planned to leave Pittodrie.
Instead, by the time new boss Steve Paterson asked him to stay on, he was committed to moving.
He told the Evening Express: “I never really got an explanation from Ebbe Skovdahl why he inexplicably decided not to play me that second season.
“I had a really good pre-season and when the start of the campaign came I was in the team but then I wasn’t getting a game.
“My contract was into the final year and if you are not playing you have a decision to make.
“I knew there were clubs down in England that were interested in at least speaking to me about signing a pre-contract in January.
“So I approached the manager and said as first team opportunities here are limited and if he didn’t plan to use me would it be okay to go and speak to other clubs with a view to moving permanently somewhere else.
“Without any hesitation he said ‘yes, fine’.
“What Ebbe didn’t tell me was he was also planning on leaving.
“That was the same time Steve Paterson and Duncan Shearer took over, however ill fated that was. I continued to train with the club after Ebbe had gone.
“Both Steve and Duncan said whatever had gone on before they would really like me to stay.”
What the pair did not know was that prior to their arrival Thornley had already been down in England talking to Blackpool.
He returned to Aberdeen and fulfilled his time up until Christmas, having already arranged to start down south on January 1.
“If they had asked me before that I would have stayed, no question as I really enjoyed it. And it would have been a managerial team I knew wanted me.”
Thornley made 33 appearances for the Dons with the last as a substitute in a 2-1 loss at Partick Thistle in November 2002.
That month Skovdahl also decided to quit as manager, insisting he would leave at the end of the season or sooner if a suitable replacement was found.
Aberdeen appointed Inverness Caley Thistle boss Paterson on December 10, with goal-scoring legend Shearer as his assistant.
Thornley still does not know why he fell out of favour, particularly with Skovdahl’s side that in losing to Partick had gone seven league games without a win.
In his autobiography Tackled: The Class of 92 Star Who Never Got to Graduate, Thornley admits he drank every weekend while in the Granite City.
He said: “I can’t remember one Saturday night in Aberdeen when I stayed in, nor that many Sundays. I was always in control but I knew it was excessive.
“When I was on my own I’d rarely go out during the week and if I did, I wouldn’t drink.
“But come Saturday night, and all day Sunday, I’d more than make up for that.”
However, Thornley insists he was a consummate professional on training and game days during his 18 months with the Dons.
He said: “For whatever reason, be it if he was going to play a different way or use different personnel, Ebbe decided he wasn’t going to play me but I am pretty sure it wasn’t my personality.
“Wherever I have been I have never been disruptive, insubordinate or caused any manager any problems. I wanted to make sure that continued with Ebbe.
“I went to see him. I didn’t go behind his back and I got the answer that I knew was coming.
“I just wanted it to be clarified and he did which meant I could move on, and the manager could do the same without problems.”
After Blackpool he would go on to play for Bury and Halifax before dropping into non league football with Bacup Borough.
He said: “I had a great time at Aberdeen and have fond memories of the club and the city.
“They made it so easy for me to integrate and once I got myself relatively fit I got into the team and scored on my home debut against Motherwell, which was special (4-2 win, August 2002) to me. There is a little regret about my time at Aberdeen that we did not get further in the cups.
“In my first season we did well and qualified for Europe. Outside of the Old Firm we always felt there was a good chance we would get to at least one final.
“But Livingston absolutely battered us at Pittodrie (6-1 defeat, League Cup, October 9 2001).
“It would have been great to experience Hampden, but it didn’t happen.”
Tackled: The Class of 92 Star Who Never Got to Graduate is out on Monday October 15, through Pitch Publishing Ltd.