On arriving at Pittodrie as manager in March 2013 Derek McInnes insisted his main priority was to make supporters fall in love with the club again.
In his first full season he delivered on that promise by lifting the League Cup at Parkhead in front of more than 40,000 fans.
As around 100,000 fans packed out the city centre to welcome back the heroes who had ended a 19-year cup drought it was clear supporters loved the club again.
They also loved McInnes. Unfortunately for the 49-year-old that love affair eventually turned sour with a large enough section of supporters growing disaffected with his management.
Eventually a crash in form with only two wins in 13 in 2021, poor fare on the pitch with only one goal in the last nine games and increasing fan frustration reached a tipping point.
US-based chairman Dave Cormack came out in early February to publicly back McInnes.
With a two-week window until the next game against Dundee United on Saturday March 20 the axe fell.
Steve Paterson infamously exited Pittodrie in the boot of a car but McInnes can leave the club with his head held high. The last few months have been a tough grind – but McInnes undoubtedly leaves a legacy at the club.
There are four certainties in life: birth, taxes, death and that a football manager will inevitably be sacked.
McInnes had flirted with the Pittodrie exit twice before, but under his own terms when his stock was sky high, when Rangers and Sunderland both tried to secure him as manager in 2017. After discussions with both clubs he opted to remain at Pittodrie.
In 2017 McInnes led the Dons to second in the Premiership and both domestic cup finals – losing to Celtic each time. The 2016-17 team broke up that summer and those levels would not be achieved consistently again.
For the last three seasons Aberdeen were treading water at best, but recently regressing.
This sobering chart is not about Aberdeen. Could be any Club. Going to the Euros reminds us, certainly those of us old enough to remember, that Scottish Football has the unique ability to galvanise a whole nation, perhaps more so today than at any other time. https://t.co/F82GbHomqo
— Dave Cormack (@CormackDavie) November 14, 2020
It is progress that is needed – especially when the club has publicly declared lofty ambitions of being a ‘challenger’ club and breaking into the Uefa top 100.
Aberdeen are operating on the third highest budget in the Premiership, behind Rangers and Celtic.
On the basis of budgets third should be the minimum return every season – that is delivering on aspirations, anything more is success, anything less failure.
For the previous two seasons Aberdeen have finished fourth in the Premiership, albeit 2019-20 was curtailed in March due to the coronavirus pandemic.
Aberdeen currently face an uphill battle to avoid finishing fourth for a third successive campaign.
McInnes received a healthy budget which regularly increased each season. However that was the by-product of delivering raised prize money from regular European action, cup finals and four Premiership runners-up finishes.
Detractors will argue his time was long before now while McInnes’ backers will highlight his consistency as reason to have retained his services.
McInnes has had to sell three of his top performers this season in Scotland international Scott McKenna, leading scorer for the last two seasons Sam Cosgrove and one of the top performers this term in Scott Wright.
There were injuries to key players as well. Regardless of potential mitigating factors the bottom line was that the Dons had too often become uninspiring with a lack of cutting edge in attack.
Football is an entertainment industry with a bottom line where wins are king. Lately neither entertainment nor wins were delivered.
With supporters locked out of stadia due to the coronavirus pandemic it was difficult to fully gauge the number of fans who wanted McInnes out. The vocal minority tend to create most of the noise on social media.
However what is certain is if supporters were allowed inside Pittodrie’s Red Shed they would have made the level of frustration patently obvious to the board.
McInnes does leave a legacy. He ended an embarrassing run of almost two decades without a cup. He delivered another three cup finals when previous to his arrival the Dons had not graced a final since 2000.
Under McInnes the Dons also qualified for European action in seven successive seasons. Prior to his arrival the Reds had played in Europe in only nine seasons since 1990.
The frustration was that McInnes could not take them beyond the Europa League third qualifying round and the group stages remained an unattained target.
Under McInnes the Dons became a relevant Scottish force yet again – however, again there was that underlying frustration there was just one trophy.
In November 2016 ahead of the League Cup final with Celtic, McInnes himself said: “I say this with all respect, any team can win a trophy.
“There are teams who have won trophies and then been relegated the following year, or been in relegation fights.
“You have to be good to win a trophy but if we want to create an era, we have to win more than one.”
There was criticism that Aberdeen failed to capitalise fully on the absence of Rangers from the top flight – with just one trophy the only real tangible return.
Aberdeen did finish ahead of the Ibrox club in their first two seasons back in the Premiership. They also knocked them out of both cup competitions in Glasgow in the 2018-19 season – only to exit to Celtic.
Rangers and Celtic battling it out is the status quo that has long existed in Scotland. That it has returned so rapidly will be hard to stomach for Dons fans.
Especially as the 2015-16 season will forever remain one of ‘what ifs’ and missed opportunities.
Following a 2-1 defeat of Kilmarnock on March 12, 2016 Aberdeen were just one point behind Celtic with eight games remaining.
A title race was very much on. Yet in the remaining eight games the Dons lost six, to finish 15 points behind Ronny Deila’s Hoops.
Had they kept their nerve, and leading scorer Adam Rooney not suffered a serious injury, it could have delivered a title and Champions League football.
The next season Celtic had to progress beyond Lincoln Red Imps, Astana and Hapoel Be’er Shiva to reach the group stages. They faced Barcelona, Manchester City and Borussia Monchengladbach in the groups and pocketed £30m.
That could have been Aberdeen. It would have been a complete game changer.
McInnes exits with a win percentage in excess of 50%. Only Sir Alex Ferguson, Billy McNeill and Alex Smith have also broken that 50% mark whilst Aberdeen manager.
Another legacy of McInnes’ time is the £14m Cormack Park training complex.
It may have the chairman’s name on the door but McInnes was pivotal to the drive to delivering that much needed complex.
Whoever replaces McInnes will have to deliver trophies and challenge Rangers and Celtic as a minimum. That is the only way there can be progress.
If McInnes’ replacement fails to achieve that, what then? Does the axe fall again and then move onto another manager like the merry-go-round of the nineties when the Dons had six managers in a decade?
Whoever becomes Aberdeen’s 24th manager will have to deliver results and attractive football and deliver it fast.