Former Aberdeen full-back Kevin McNaughton says ex-Pittodrie boss Ebbe Skovdahl was “ahead of his time” as a coach.
Now retired, McNaughton – who came through the Pittodrie youth ranks and made more than 200 first team appearances between 2000 and 2006 – played under Dane Skovdahl, who handed him his debut, as well as Steve Paterson and, later, Jimmy Calderwood in his time at the Dons.
Speaking on the Evening Express and Press and Journal’s Northern Goal podcast, in a bonus episode which will be released today, Dundee-native McNaughton revealed he was most fond of Brondby legend Skovdahl’s approach.
He explained: “What suited me, especially with Ebbe, was that he was very laidback.
“Over the course of my career, I found whenever I worked with anyone who was fairly chilled out and left you to your own devices, I shone.
“That was the approach he had.
“There were times when we came in after defeats and he’d be pretty chilled out and he’d be chatting away as if we hadn’t lost the game.
“It was just his nature.”
Despite only securing one top-half league finish – in 2001/02 – in his time as Reds boss, McNaughton says Skovdahl and his staff taught him training methods which helped him have the career he had, which included nearly a decade at Cardiff City
The former full-back said: “He was ahead of his time in the stuff he was doing with Olympic weights and things like that.
“When I went down south, I found a lot of the clubs were doing the stuff he’d been doing five or six years before.
“The stuff he did at Brondby, he’d put videos up.
“For the older players it was sort of difficult to accept, and they weren’t keen on it.
“But being a young lad I bought into it and, over the course of my career, I done a lot of the stuff I learned under Ebbe, like going into the gym.
“It was down to John Sharp as well, who worked behind the scenes and was an underrated physio in my opinion.
“I would go back to him for advice.”
In Skovdahl’s time at Aberdeen, there were a lot of foreign imports playing for the Dons first-team and McNaughton also spoke about about the lasting impact made on him by two of these players – Morrocan magician Hicham Zerouali, who was killed in a car crash in 2004, and Norwegian hitman Arild Stavrum.
McNaughton said: “Hicham especially, I remember he came in on trial and within about two days a few of the guys said ‘why have you got this guy on trial? You need to sign him right away!’
“They’d obviously been sent videos of him which had shown him in a good light, but you knew within a training session with the lad he was a good player.
“He was an instant hit because of his quality and he was also great in the changing room.
“Some foreign lads find it hard. He was quiet, but had a way about, a really good character and integrated with the boys.
“Him and Eoin Jess during my time in Aberdeen were at a different level from everybody else in terms of what they could do.
“Arild was different in that he was just a natural goalscorer, but I don’t even think he liked football.
“He actually said at one point ‘I don’t enjoy playing football, I just do it for the money’ and I was blown away.
“He said ‘I think I want to write my own book or go into coaching. I think I’d prefer to do that.’
McNaughton went on to explain, although Stavrum’s workrate wasn’t the highest, he was the type of talent who would “do nothing for 80 minutes and score two goals”.
Injury and a less warm relationship with Paterson during Pele’s year-and-a-half at Pittodrie saw “Super Kev” making fewer Aberdeen starts, before his final two seasons under Calderwood, where he was once again a mainstay of the team.
McNaughton revealed he thinks Calderwood’s tendency to chop and change his team and the lack of a domestic cup run were his downfall, despite top-six finishes and – after McNaughton’s departure – a fantastic run in the UEFA Cup which included meetings with Atletico Madrid, Lokomotiv Moscow, Copenhagen and Bayern Munich.
In the episode of Northern Goal, which is available on your favourite podcast app, McNaughton also reveals the real story of his Dons departure, his reflections on owner Vincent Tan, FA Cup and League Cup losses in his time at Cardiff City, as well as counting the likes of Aaron Ramsey, Craig Bellamy and Robbie Fowler as team-mates.