Aberdeen reporter notebook: Stormy weather in Dubai preceding a new dawn for Derek McInnes?
Sky Sports News reporter Charles Paterson takes in Aberdeen's winter break as the weather turns in Dubai ahead of a new beginning for Derek McInnes
By Charles Paterson in Dubai
Last Updated: 10/01/20 12:34pm
The Aberdeen squad are used to high winds and torrential rain, but they did not expect to encounter these conditions in Dubai.
An unusually cold weather front has settled over the United Arab Emirates, bringing downpours and cooler temperatures. Relief, perhaps for any players fearing gruelling sessions in searing heat, but it is not exactly warm weather training.
Many roads around the city have been flooded and the entrance to Aberdeen's hotel complex at Jebel Ali has been partially closed off due to giant puddles. The club's soccer school session with local children has been moved from a local artificial pitch that is currently underwater to the nearby training ground where Derek McInnes' players are based for the fourth consecutive January.
Aberdeen have always stayed away from the bright lights when in Dubai. Jebel Ali is forty minutes' drive from the skyscrapers of Jumeirah and the marina, where Celtic lounge in luxury. This is the major port area of the UAE, more industrial and with cheaper accommodation. Yet the team hotel, which is popular with Russian tourists, is on an attractive beach, with a huge yacht moored in the small harbour next door.
Commercial interests were part of the appeal for Aberdeen's initial trips to Dubai in 2017 and 2018. With connections to the oil industry, and supporters hailing from the city based here, it made sense for the club to encourage corporate exposure, including a pair of golf days involving players and staff during the first two seasons.
Recently, there has been more focus on football. Aberdeen play a friendly match on Monday against a team from Jordan as they prepare to face Dumbarton in the Scottish Cup next Saturday. They have previously faced teams from Uzbekistan, including Lokomotiv Tashkent, who play Rangers on Saturday.
This area is hugely popular with squads in off-season. A Kazakh team is staying in Aberdeen's hotel, while Spartak Moscow trained next door 12 months ago. The base is not cheap, however - flying an entire playing squad, plus backroom staff and kit, seven hours in a plane to stay at a five-star resort for a week, plus hire of pitches, costs a large five-figure sum. The outlay can only be justified by the results that follow.
Changing times in the Granite City
It is a time of change at Aberdeen. The club's new training centre, Cormack Park, has been open for a few months, while the man whose name adorns the complex took over as chairman last month. Dave Cormack has promised fresh investment and secured a tie-up with Atlanta United in the MLS - but what does this all mean for McInnes?
In what has been a quiet transfer window in Scotland thus far, Aberdeen have made the first major foray, signing 26-year-old Dylan McGeouch from Sunderland. It appears a shrewd deal - an experienced, but still young midfielder with a recent track record of success at Hibernian.
Any fan hoping that Cormack indulges in a spending spree would be mistaken; Aberdeen have a new stadium to pay for in the near future. There are funds for McInnes to use to consolidate Aberdeen's position as the most consistent challengers to the Old Firm, but this season the gap to Celtic and Rangers has become a chasm.
A chastening 5-0 defeat at Ibrox in September was followed by an awful first-half performance at Pittodrie in October when Celtic scored four times. The restlessness of the home support was evident that day and fans were vocal in their dissatisfaction, but Aberdeen have regrouped and sit just a point behind Motherwell in fourth place.
Consistency has been Aberdeen's hallmark under McInnes, but in nearly seven years only one trophy has returned to Pittodrie - the League Cup in 2014. The improvement in facilities could be followed by a few squad upgrades, but it will always be an uphill battle trying to compete with the Old Firm in the league.
This new beginning raises questions as to what McInnes can achieve with Aberdeen. Realism will overtake ambition, ultimately, but it should not be too much for supporters to expect silverware of some kind from a cup competition in the next couple of years, plus a continuation of the club's status as the best of the rest, despite the challenges in doing that.
If these objectives can be reached then the money shelled out in Dubai will have been well spent and a week such as this will be worth its weight in silverware.