Aberdeen have blown a potential game changing £5million European windfall by meekly crashing out of the Scottish Cup.
The team that lifts the national trophy at Hampden on May 22 will secure automatic qualification into the Europa League play-offs.
That is just one two legged tie from the lucrative group stages which would deliver a huge £5m boost.
Uefa have yet to confirm the payment structure for the 2021-22 season but qualification for the Europa League groups this campaign paid out in excess of £2.5m.
A victory in the groups this season also landed prize money of £515,000 with £115,000 for a draw.
That guaranteed cash bonanza in the groups is before the added extras of sponsorship deals, broadcast rights and if Covid-19 restrictions are eased, gate receipts and corporate income.
A European pot of gold – and the Dons blew it
With Aberdeen suffering multi-million losses due to the Covid-19 pandemic and newly appointed boss Stephen Glass looking to strengthen his squad in the summer how vital that windfall could have been.
The Scottish Cup offers not just silver but a pot of gold – and the Dons threw it away.
To put it into context St Mirren, St Johnstone, Hibs or Dundee United will enter the Europa League at a more advanced stage than the Reds have managed in seven consecutive attempts since 2014.
The kick-off dates and times for the Semi-Finals of the 2020-21 Scottish Cup have been confirmed.@DundeeUnitedFC v @HibernianFC
Saturday, 8 May – 4pm@PremierSportsTV@SaintMirrenFC v @StJohnstone
Sunday, 9 May – 2.15pm@PremierSportsTV & @BBCOne Scotland#ScottishCup pic.twitter.com/1LCBRVP2Vr
— Scottish Cup (@ScottishCup) April 27, 2021
And they will do that without kicking a ball in anger on the continent.
What an opportunity missed by Aberdeen.
Scottish Cup blown wide open this season
If the quarter-final loss to Dundee United was a blow the semi final set up delivers the devastating knock-out punch.
The tournament has been blown wide open with both Rangers and Celtic knocked out yet the Reds are on the outside looking in, wondering what might have been.
Had the Dons won the New Firm derby they would be in the last four with Hibs, St Johnstone and St Mirren.
Never has the country’s main cup been so open at a time when the tournament brings so much extra rewards.
Aberdeen supporters still reeling from the sheer disappointment of blowing the chance to end a 31 year wait for the Scottish Cup should look away now – it gets worse!
Not only do this season’s Scottish Cup winners qualify for the Europa League play-offs if they lose that two legged tie they immediately drop down into the Uefa Conference League groups.
That will guarantee six group games, three at home, in the Conference League and Euro action until at least December 9.
In seven years of European competition under former manager Derek McInnes the Dons never progressed beyond the Europa League third qualifying round.
Reaching the Europa League group stages was the European holy grail for Aberdeen, a club with aspirations of breaking into the Uefa top 100.
For the first time since 2014 the Dons will not qualify for the Europa League.
Aberdeen set to qualify for Uefa Conference League
Instead they will go into the newly formed Uefa Conference League, the third tier of European knock-out football.
The Dons will confirm qualification to the Conference League at the second qualifying round stage if they secure a point at Livingston on Saturday.
European football for an eighth season, granted, but it pales into comparison with the opportunities and potential riches open to the Scottish Cup winners via the Europa League.
After a bright opening 15 minutes the Dons looked mentally and physically drained in the quarter-final defeat to Dundee United.
Dundee United boss Micky Mellon rested six players in the midweek Premiership match against Kilmarnock ahead of the tie.
Although United lost 3-0 to Killie it was hardly a gamble by Mellon.
Mellon had the scope to rest players as although Dundee United are in the bottom six they are clear from any threat of relegation.
With Aberdeen’s Premiership campaign still very much alive Glass did not have the same luxury for the Premiership visit of Celtic.
The Dons were fighting for for a third placed finish and Celtic at home was Glass’ first Premiership game in charge.
He could not afford to rest players against the Hoops ahead of the cup tie for three reasons:
- The chance to leap-frog Hibs in third is still alive so he had to go for the win against Celtic.
- Optics of resting players in his first league game in the dugout would not have been good – particularly if it had back-fired and the Reds lost.
- Glass actually had little scope to rest players as his squad was already stretched.
Full-backs Calvin Ramsay and Jack MacKenzie have both impressed when starting – but throwing them in against the speed and skill of Celtic down the flanks was a big ask.
With Ross McCrorie in at right-back the only real viable option to rest a player was in midfield – with Dylan McGeouch available.
However Lewis Ferguson was superb in an all action box to box role against Celtic when netting, hitting the post and clearing off the line.
Midfielder Dean Campbell also impressed.
The philosophy of a team with Aberdeen’s aspirations should always be to go out to win every game – and not prioritize one over another.
Glass did just that by fielding his best starting XI against Celtic.
Ultimately though he was let down in the cup by his players.