Aberdeen boss Derek McInnes insists he feels the Red Army’s pain at the imminent exit of captain Graeme Shinnie.
Scotland international Shinnie will move to Derby County on a three-year deal in the summer as a free agent.
McInnes is confident skipper Shinnie will recover from an ankle injury to make an emotional farewell appearance in the final game of the season away to Hibs next Sunday.
The 27-year-old’s contract at Pittodrie expires at the end of the season and McInnes did everything in his power to convince the midfielder to sign a new deal.
A long-term contract which would have made the Aberdonian the highest paid player at the club was not enough against the lure of English football.
With Derby set to face Leeds United in the semi-final of the Championship play-off tomorrow Shinnie could yet find himself playing in the top flight.
McInnes said: “I feel the pain for the supporters, because we are all feeling it at losing him.
“No player has been more connected to our supporters in my time here than Graeme.
“He just got it and they got him from day one.
“The club did everything we possibly could to keep Graeme with us and he recognised that.
“Graeme moving to Derby is a real blow but we have been preparing for that and it has been pretty inevitable.”
Shinnie will miss tonight’s clash with Hearts but is on track to make his Aberdeen bow in the final game of the season.
McInnes said: “I am pretty sure Graeme will be fine for Hibs.”
McInnes insists he has already identified a number of potential replacements for Shinnie ahead of a summer of rebuilding.
Landing a ready-made replacement, however, will be problematic as Aberdeen will primarily be operating within the free agent market for signings.
McInnes said: “It is my job with Shinnie leaving to try to find other players who have a similar affection for the club.
“And someone who can bring as much as he did both on and off the pitch.”
If there was to be a silver lining, of sorts, in the undoubted cloud of Shinnie’s departure it is that the club captain has not signed for a rival Scottish club.
Earlier this season there had been reported interest from Rangers. Aberdeen lost their club skipper Ryan Jack to the Ibrox club two summers ago.
Midfielder Shinnie had been targeted by other Championship clubs understood to be Wigan, Bristol City and recently-promoted Luton Town, where his older brother Andrew plays.
McInnes reckons the Dons could have fought off competition from other suitors for Shinnie in England to retain him which is why they were willing to be patient with any decision on his future and not force the issue.
However, the lure of working with Chelsea and England legend Frank Lampard, the Derby boss, the stature and history of the club and the potential of Premier League football were too strong.
McInnes said: “There were several clubs in England that had shown an interest and I think we would have fought that off in Graeme’s mind. However, the interest from Derby, with the potential of the club, has been too big a draw for him.
“Graeme wouldn’t have just left us to go to any club in England although I know he was keen to try down there.
“Derby was too big a pull for him and I fully understand that.”
Shinnie travelled down to Derby for talks last month. McInnes has been in regular contact with Lampard regarding Shinnie and also left-back Max Lowe, who is on loan from the Rams for the season.
He said: “I had talked to Frank and Jody (Morris, assistant manager) on a regular basis and they knew exactly what kind of player Graeme is.
“When you make any signing you look at the player and what he can give you on the pitch.
“I have said to them they are getting a brilliant boy and they will be drawn to the way he plays the game naturally.”
Midfielder Kenny McLean left Aberdeen to sign on at Norwich City last season . He has now won the Championship title and will be playing in the top flight.
Shinnie could yet join his former Pittodrie team-mate in the world’s richest league that has two sides, Liverpool and Spurs, set to contest the Champions League final next month.
McInnes said: “You see the impact Kenny has made at Norwich and also John McGinn at Aston Villa.
“Kenny is now a Premier league player and Derby have aspirations to be a Premier League club.
“Graeme will be thinking he wants a slice of that.
“I understand this is a fantastic opportunity for Graeme career-wise and it is an itch he wanted to scratch. I am pretty sure he can go on and impose himself on their club in the same way he has done at our club.”
As well as replacing Shinnie with a new signing in the summer, McInnes will also have to appoint another club captain. He won’t rush the decision.
He said: “It’s not a decision I need to make now, but we’ll look at that. You don’t want to be replacing your captain, but we’ve been here before.
“There are enough players with real qualities to suggest they can take over that responsibility.”