Gothenburg great Neale Cooper today applauded Derek McInnes for doing what only the great Sir Alex Ferguson ever did.
Dons legend Cooper is impressed that McInnes has led his old club into Europe for the fourth season in a row. He’s the only Dons manager other than Ferguson, who Cooper played for in the 1980s, to have done that.
“Nobody should underplay how big an achievement that is,” said Cooper, who was in the Dons side Ferguson led to victory over Spanish giants Real Madrid in the 1983 European Cup Winners’ Cup final in Sweden.
“The fact a manager as great as Fergie is the only other one to have done that with Aberdeen underlines that.
“What Derek has managed to do is fantastic.”
Cooper believes the experiences of the last three seasons will help the Dons players when they make their fourth attempt to reach the group stages next term.
“The more you play in Europe the more confident and better you get at handling the challenge that presents,” he said.
“It can be pretty daunting to start with. I was only 16 when I made my debut againstLiverpool at Anfield.
“We were already well beaten and I can still recall their fans shouting I should go and enjoy it because it would be the highlight of my career.
“But even then I was thinking that I would shut them up and help Aberdeen make their mark in Europe someday.
“Fergie said the same stuff to us after that match.
“Every defeat was used as an incentive to go back out the next season and prove we could do better.
“We beat Ipswich Town a couple of years after losing to Liverpool and things just grew from there.
“We would never have won in 1983 without experiencing the ups and downs of the previous campaigns.
“The more you play at that level the more you learn to adjust and win games.
“The referees are all different, so you come to accept that you maybe can’t tackle in the same manner as you might in the league.
“You also gain experience of how to perform in things like very hot conditions and in front of hostile crowds.
“All of us, the players and Fergie, took something out of each passing campaign.
“We eventually got to the stage where we won those two European trophies in 1983.
“We also later reached the semis of the European Cup, an achievement that goes almost forgotten.
“Nobody expects to see the Dons do something like that now.
“But they deserve credit for showing they can compete well in Europe again. “They have beaten some decent sides in the last couple of years.
“I’ve been really impressed by the way they have performed. I’m looking forward to seeing if they can take things up to the next level this summer.”
Cooper accepts it will be tough for the Dons because of the way the Europa League is set up. They could face having to battle through four rounds just to earn the right to take part in a play-off to reach the group stage.
“It’s bonkers what they are being asked to do now,” said Cooper.
“Even more so because there are never any easy games in Europe, even the lesser known sides are well organised and hard to beat.
“It was the same back in our day.
“People tend to forget how hard it was for us to beat Albanian side Dinamo Tirana the year we won the Cup Winners’ Cup.
“It was one of the trickiest ties of that whole campaign.
“John Hewitt scored the only goal at Pittodrie.
“We then went to Albania to discover we had arrived in the country in the middle of a military coup.
“There was a lot of laughter when Fergie told us there was a coup outside and Neil Simpson quickly replied: “So what, there’s a load of coos’ in Newmachar”.
“It was a tough trip though, and we were fortunate to go through with a 0-0 draw over there.
“It’s the memories of that game that make me admire even more what the Dons have done under Derek so far.”
Cooper claimed an asset McInnes shares with Ferguson – attention to detail – will give them more than a fighting chance of going further than they have before.
Cooper said: “He makes sure his players know all they can about whoever they are going to play. It was the same with Fergie. He use to hand us a dossier of information about the teams and players we were going to face.
“They tended to contain a picture and more details about the player you were likely to be in direct opposition to.
“I had never heard of some of them but by the time we faced up on the pitch I knew more about them than some of my closest pals.
“It meant we knew all their strengths and weaknesses, and could exploit them.
“Fergie and Archie Knox were years ahead of their time in that respect.
“I know Derek puts a lot of importance on that sort of preparation as well.
“He’s the modern version of Fergie in that respect.”Their results over the last couple of seasons are proof that it helps.
“Clubs don’t need to do that so much in the league because they play against each other so often nowadays.
“But you definitely need it when you play in Europe.
“It’s great that the Aberdeen fans already have the excitement of another European campaign to look forward to.
“It would be even better if they could go into that as Scottish Cup winners, which is still possible.
“That would cap what has already been a memorable campaign for the Dons.”