Aberdeen boss Derek McInnes believes midfielder Dean Campbell is no longer “nice” after adding bite and edge to his game.
McInnes knows the 19-year-old’s undoubted talents meant he was always nice on the eye.
But as a central midfielder in his own playing career, McInnes knows nice “doesn’t cut it” in the heart of the pitch.
In response Campbell has worked overtime in the Cormack Park gym to bulk up for physical battles.
And McInnes has been delighted to see the teenager thrive on “getting his hands dirty”.
He said: “When we first came across Dean, we didn’t want him to be that nice player everybody says he is. Nice doesn’t cut it as a central midfield player.
“As nice on the eye as he is, Dean’s also becoming a more rounded player and that part of his game pleases me.
“He’s looking for second balls and against Killie, he was looking for Kiltie, looking for Whitehall. Dean’s doing well.”
A product of the Pittodrie youth system, Aberdonian Campbell started the last three games against Kilmarnock, Celtic and St Mirren. All were played in testing conditions.
McInnes said: “I’ve found a wee bit out about Dean recently.
“He’s been like that for the last wee while. Playing in tough conditions, the wind and that, sometimes you’ve just got to go toe to toe with your opponent, get your hands dirty and do the yards.
“Being a midfielder myself, running up and down the pitch, matching runs, winning tackles, sometimes the enjoyment doesn’t come from the game, but from the result. He’s getting a run now.
“Dean gives us balance in there. He puts his foot on the ball, but he’s also getting his hands dirty and playing a bit more vertical now in getting up and down the pitch and getting against people.
“He’s still learning on the job.”
Campbell’s development is not only restricted to the thrust of gameplay, he’s putting in the hard hours in the gym and it is paying off for the Scotland Under-19 international.
McInnes said: “He’s got the capability of a proper physique. You see Ferguson’s change in his physique and the same with Cosgrove.
“He knows the areas that he’s got to improve on and he maybe didn’t know it at the start.
“He’s getting to grips with that.
“Without putting too much pressure on him, if Dean can hold his own in a team like ours regularly, he’s going to be ok.”
Campbell made his first team debut at just 16 years, one month and 23 days when introduced as a late substitute in a 3-1 loss to Celtic at Pittodrie in May 2017.
He was, and still is, Aberdeen’s youngest ever player to feature for the first team.
A year later McInnes pitched him in midway through the second half for the 1-0 defeat of the Celtic at Parkhead on the final day of the 2017-18 season.
It was a game the Dons had to win to secure a runners-up spot, with Campbell’s role to see out the victory.
He also impressed at Parkhead when starting in the 1-0 loss last Wednesday. McInnes said: “Against Celtic, Dean was up against Ryan Christie and worked off of him and played in his area of the pitch.
“Ryan Christie is a top, top player and one of the best in Scotland and he dealt with him.
“That young midfield was very good at Celtic Park.
“Ross McCrorie, Lewis Ferguson and Dean are three babies really with a lot of game time under their belt. They’re doing away fine, the three of them.”
Campbell is signed to the Dons until summer 2023 after extending his deal in December 2019.
Aberdeen have this season lost youth academy graduates Scott McKenna and Scott Wright.
Scotland international McKenna was sold to Nottingham Forest in a £3 million deal with Wright exiting for Rangers.
McInnes said: “It is part of our job to bring young players through. It’s about getting the balance right when you bring players in.
“We’ve seen a lot of players move on and Dean has been in and around the squad for a few seasons now.”
⚽️ Should Aberdeen fans be expecting a win over Celtic on Saturday after the Hoops' 1-0 loss to Ross County?
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