Scott Wright reckons long-time friend Scott McKenna will not be affected by the fervent speculation around his Aberdeen future.
The Dons defender handed in a transfer request over the weekend and his place in the team for tonight’s Europa League tie against Rijeka had been in doubt.
Fresh bids for the 22-year-old from English Championship clubs Sheffield Wednesday and Queens Park Rangers arrived yesterday and were promptly snubbed by the Dons, as they prepared to fly out to Croatia.
Wright came through the Aberdeen youth system at Pittodrie and has watched McKenna blossom into one of the country’s most promising defenders.
The centre-half has captained his club and country during the last 18 months and has been the subject of persistent interest from clubs in England and Scotland.
As it stands, McKenna will start tonight at the Stadion Rujevica and Wright has no concerns about him handling all the current speculation.
Wright said: “It’s something that big Scotty has to deal with. I don’t think any of the boys in the changing room are surprised there’s been attention on him, he’s been fantastic for the last couple of seasons. But it’s something that’s going on in the background that we can’t deal with.
“Scotty has come in, trained hard and I don’t think anyone expected anything less. I’m sure he’ll be ready tonight.
“I’ve come through the whole youth academy with Scotty and it’s been great to see his rise; he’s captained his club and captained his country.
“It’s good for the boys that have grown up with him. He’s taken it all in his stride and is an experienced centre-half now.”
McKenna has featured in all five games so far this season, despite handing a transfer request in before the opening Premiership game against Hearts. Given the shortage of defenders available, having him on the plane and ready to play is pivotal for the Dons.
They face a Rijeka team coming into the competition at the third qualifying round, having won the Croatian Cup last year.
The Dons have come through ties against RoPS Rovaniemi and Georgian side Chikhura Sachkhere to get to this stage, which has been a sticking point in Europe under Derek McInnes.
However, the draw on Monday for the play-off round handed them the winners of the AEK Larnaca-Gent tie, arguably presenting the club with its best chance of making the Europa League group stages for the first time under the gaffer.
Wright said: “The manager strives for it. It’s important we qualify for the Europa League every year and because we’re in it this year people might think it’s difficult to juggle the two, but he makes sure we’re ready for the Premiership and the Europa League.
“He really wants us to get into the group stages, as do the whole squad. Although it’s been very good in years before, it’s been frustrating because we’ve come close yet so far.
“We class ourselves as an experienced team now – we’ll take it tie by tie and try not look too far ahead. We know we’re close, but there’s still work to do.”
It is the first time Aberdeen have returned to Rijeka since they beat them 3-0 in 2015, on a night where Kenny McLean, Peter Pawlett and Andy Considine found the net. The teams drew 2-2 at Pittodrie to send Aberdeen through to the third qualifying round. Wright added: “I was on the bench that night and it was probably one of our most memorable nights in Europe.
“Tonight they are a different team and so are we. I do recognise a couple of places – I’ve been here with Scotland as well.
“I think we struggled a wee bit – we played Czech Republic then and they were a good side. But all our focus is on tonight.
“It’s important you don’t get carried away with what’s in the papers and on the news. We’re fine classing ourselves as the underdogs in every round. We’re an experienced team now in the Europa League and the majority of times in years before, we were classed as underdogs and managed to get some big results.”
Balmedie-born Wright, who had a loan spell at Dundee last season, scored his first goal at Pittodrie in the 5-0 win over Chikhura last week, but is not dwelling too much on his landmark strike.
He added: “I was delighted to get my first goal at Pittodrie – it was a special moment for myself and my friends.
“I can’t reflect too much on it now. It’s done.
“We’ve got an important game tonight and then Sunday (in the league away to St Mirren). Important games come thick and fast.”