Dean Campbell doesn’t want to be in the team just to fix an injury crisis – he wants to be there permanently.
The 18-year-old was under no illusions when boss Derek McInnes raided the transfer
market in the summer to sign Funso Ojo and Craig Bryson.
Having rejected a new deal at Derby County and offers from other Championship clubs, Bryson’s capture was viewed as Aberdeen’s “marquee” signing.
Likewise, the Reds splashed out £125,000 to secure former Belgian Under-21 cap Ojo, the only transfer fee of the window.
Campbell is a realist and accepted both experienced midfielders would start ahead
of him. It was a case of biding his time and taking the chance it when it arrived.
That opportunity has arrived with a midfield injury crisis that deepened when Ojo and Bryson were both ruled out.
Campbell was drafted into the starting line-up for the 2-0 defeat of Livingston and is set to retain that slot for at least a month.
Bryson is out for four weeks with an ankle injury and Ojo three months with a significant tear to a hamstring.
When both return to fitness, Campbell is determined to give boss McInnes a selection
headache by staking his own claim for a regular start, even if the two summer signings
He said: “I knew when Funso and Craig signed that they are very experienced players and are going to play. When the manager signs players he has to play them.
“I don’t want to be a player that just fills in for them when they are not there.
“I want to be there competing with them when they are both fit.
“I was gutted when they both picked up their injuries but I have my chance and hopefully I can continue playing at a decent standard.
“I am hoping not just to be in the team when they are injured. I want to stake my claim and when the more experienced boys are back, still be around it.”
Campbell has consistently underlined his ability to cope with high-pressure games.
He made his debut in a 1-0 away victory at Celtic – the final Premiership game of the 2017-18 season, which the Dons had to win to finish runners-up. He also started in last season’s 2-0 Scottish Cup quarter-final replay defeat of Rangers at Ibrox.
When Ojo and Bryson were signed the Aberdonian, a life-long Dons supporter, accepted he had to be patient and wait for another opportunity to shine.
He said: “All I can do is stay in the manager’s thoughts.
“It is just down to me to train hard, compete and, when I get my chance, go out and give the manager a decision to make when they are back fit.
“Obviously Craig and Funso have played at a high level so it is all about competing with them every day and learning as much as I can from them.
“I think so far I have done that.
“I have to do all I can to stay in the manager’s thoughts and learn from the experienced players who have come in.”
Having starred in last season’s last-eight Scottish Cup defeat of Rangers, the teen will now start in another quarter-final when facing Hearts away tomorrow.
He said: “I am happy to be getting trusted to play in games, although we did have injuries in midfield. I am just happy to be out there playing for Aberdeen.”
Hearts ended a dismal run of form when defeating Hibs 2-1 in the Edinburgh derby on Sunday.
Campbell said: “It is a tight pitch at Tynecastle.
“We have to be ready for the challenge that is coming, as we know what they will bring.
“Hearts will be up for it as it is the quarter-final of a cup. We just have to go there and do our job to hopefully get us through.”
Campbell was drafted in for his second start of the season to partner Lewis Ferguson in the heart of midfield against Livi.
Early in the match at the Tony Macaroni Arena he was felled by a robust, but fair, challenge from Livingston’s Marvin Bartley.
Campbell has excelled in technical battles against teams like Celtic and Rangers when there is more space and time on the ball. He is relishing the prospect of learning from more physical encounters as he continually looks to improve his game.
Campbell said: “I expect that when I step up and play at first-team level. I know it is going to be more physical so I just have to be ready for the challenge.
“It is a huge learning curve for myself as the games I have tended to play in have been the Celtic and Rangers ones, which have been technical games.
“It was a different challenge for me. I feel in the technical games, the passing games, I am able to cope quite well.
“In games where it is scrappy I have to help around the corner and win my battles. That is the games I need to improve on. Games like Livingston will only make me a better player.”
With the robustness of Bartley’s crunching challenge there could have been fears Aberdeen’s midfield injury curse had struck again. That was fleeting, as the teen jumped straight back up.
“I had to,” he said.
“I didn’t want to roll about. I just wanted to get back up and get on with it.”
Campbell played a key role in Aberdeen securing a win, and three vital points, at Livingston.
He said: “It wasn’t pretty, we all know that, but we went there to do a job and we did that.
“Hopefully the standard of football can be better at Hearts and get us into a semi-final.”