Graham Hunter: Aberdeen legend Alex McLeish may be 60, but Real Madrid are the ones creaking

Alex McLeish, centre, celebrates the European Cup Winners' Cup Final win with Eric Black, left, and Neale Cooper
Alex McLeish, centre, celebrates the European Cup Winners' Cup Final win with Eric Black, left, and Neale Cooper

Real Madrid are on my mind, and not only because of Alex McLeish’s recent birthday.

Apparently someone has concocted the brutal lie this legendary Dandy (whose wife, sons and new grandson are all Aberdonians) just turned 60!

Nah. No way.

I swear it’s just a few months ago he was pitched into the Dandies’ first team by a furious Alex Ferguson after some senior players had a sherry or sixteen too many at Hogmanay.

What was it, two or three seasons ago at most he made his debut against Dundee United at Pittodrie?

Sixty you say? Never.

His wonder goal at Hampden in the 1982 Scottish Cup final turned what became a 4-1 thrashing of Rangers.

His sublime headed equaliser against Bayern Munich in the 1983 Cup Winners’ Cup quarter-final victory paved the way to beating Real Madrid in Gothenburg.

And after that rain-soaked surface against Madrid tricked him into conceding a penalty, his subsequent 105 minutes were inch-perfect.


No less impressive than Roy Keane ignoring that semi-final booking against Juventus, which guaranteed he was already out of the 1999 Champions League final, and nevertheless bossing Fergie’s Manchester United into the treble-winning showpiece at Camp Nou where they’d dramatically defeat Bayern Munich (how the Bavarians must hate Fergie!)

Nor were Real Madrid in my head thanks to interviewing Kincorth’s very own Ryan Fraser the other day.

This talented, smart, lightning-fast Aberdonian first realised he was genuinely Premier League-class after he matched himself against Messrs Cristiano Ronaldo, Modric, Benzema and Isco when Real Madrid came to Bournemouth for a pre-season friendly.

More of Ryan Fraser soon for those who listen to my Big Interview podcast – I’ll emphasise, if watching him help Bournemouth smash through Liverpool and Arsenal impressed you, then just wait till you hear him talk about football, ambitions and life under Eddie Howe.

The Granite City should be ultra-proud of this guy.

So, to Madrid. It’s too late for them to win La Liga and their season is pock-marked with bad performances.

Santiago Solari of Real Madrid during the La Liga Santander match between Espanyol v Real Madrid at the RCDE Stadium on January 27, 2019 in Cornella Spain

It’s also unlikely Florentino Perez, following painful defeats to Eibar and Real Sociedad, will be shrewd enough to stick with Santi Solari going forward.

However, the Argentinian has impressed me.

He inherited a fatally-flawed squad, peppered with bad attitudes, injuries, players lacking fitness, success-sated players – the most demanding challenges imaginable for a debut coach who’s been parachuted in to an emergency situation.

But Solari has patiently hacked away at the obstructions and eventually made his team sharp, aggressive and bursting with stamina.

He’s trusted Vinicius, who’s a diamond, coaxed Karim Benzema to his best form in years, got Madrid passing with zest and risk and made Luka Modric perform like a Ballon D’Or winner.

Suddenly, Madrid are dangerous to play and a joy to watch.

Could they, however impossible it sounds, turn this dreadful campaign into a fourth straight Champions League win?

It feels more likely, to me, than big Alec turning 60.