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Is Aberdeen manager Derek McInnes the man to save Sunderland?

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Recent reports have suggested that Aberdeen boss Derek McInnes is a leading candidate to take over as manager of Sunderland AFC - prompting many fans to raise an eyebrow, or two, in apprehension. Who is he, and what could he bring to the club?

Hibernian v Aberdeen - Scottish Cup Semi-Final Photo by Ian MacNicol/Getty Images

In the aftermath of an abysmal season our club must now appoint a manager capable of restoring pride and belief to a fan-base whose morale is extremely low. Suffering 26 league defeats last season was awful, and the general lack of fight and desire emanating from within the club has been difficult to endure.

David Moyes’ resignation on Monday has thrown media outlets into overdrive, and speculation is rife as to who will emerge as Sunderland’s new manager. However, one name that has emerged as a prime candidate is Aberdeen manager, Derek McInnes.

A few eyebrows were raised at the name, and perhaps rightly so. Few fans will be familiar with the Aberdeen manager and his exploits in Scotland, but many are curious just as to who Derek McInnes is and what he can bring to our ailing club?

Aberdeen v Celtic - Betfred Cup Final
Who is Derek McInnes?
Photo by Ian MacNicol/Getty Images

McInnes is relatively young, and has been lauded north of the border in recent months as his Aberdeen side have cemented their place as the country’s second best team, won silverware and qualified for Europe under his tutelage.

Many will point to his poor spell as Bristol City boss indicating it shows he isn’t cut out to manage in the Championship; however, the way in which he rebounded from such a difficult period has been truly exceptional and shows a real strength of character.

That is a stark contrast to David Moyes who joined the club on the back of a reversal of fortunes. Many were quick to laud the point that Moyes was successful with Everton in the past as a yardstick to measure his ability - ignoring his recent failures. Similarly, people will point to McInnes’ past failures without so much as contemplating his upswing in fortunes. We have to be fair here.

The more you read about McInnes, the more you take a liking to him and can understand why the club would be interested in signing him.

Back in January the Scottish Sun interviewed McInnes asking him about the financial difficulties he has faced since taking over at Aberdeen back in 2013; his responses were interesting and certainly resonate with the challenges facing our club at the moment:

The financial side makes it difficult — our wages haven’t moved really. We are debt-free because of that, living within our means. Like any club we’d like more in the gates to generate more money. European runs are important, cup runs are important.

It’s difficult keeping players because we are paying them what we can already. That hasn’t really changed in the last three or four years, and ultimately money does come into it.

We only spent £200,000 putting this team together — £175,000 on Kenny McLean. He is the only money we have spent and we have put together a squad now trying to challenge two teams with vast resources.

But that’s where we are judged — against Celtic and Rangers.

McInnes is no stranger to financial issues facing a club, and has thrived in a very testing environment. Therefore, Sunderland’s current resource matters quite possibly won’t act as such a deterrent to the passionate Scot. We need someone who is familiar with working on a tight budget and getting the most out of his players - McInnes has demonstrated that he can build a successful side with little room to maneuver financially.

Aberdeen v Inverness Caledonian Thistle - Scottish Communities League Cup Final
He has won one Scottish cup and will fight for it again this weekend against Celtic.
Photo by Jeff J Mitchell/Getty Images

But it’s not just his ability to work on a shoe-string that stands McInnes in good stead. The ambition, pragmatism and determination of the man is evident to see in the manner in which he speaks. He is practical, yet seems totally confident in both the abilities of his players and indeed himself:

I think we have players now playing consistently well and a team of value. That pleases me.

But there is still LOTS to do — still more we can do. One trophy isn’t enough — I want us to win another. I want to continually raise the standards.

I still think we can win another cup, we can get to the group stages of the Europa League and put more value on the pitch.

I want us to be in a position to strengthen if we do lose a player.

The confidence that the man generates is really impressive - he is ambitious and driven to succeed. Should he become Sunderland manager, it will be a nice change to hear an upbeat Scottish voice leading the club.

Detractors will point to Aberdeen’s relative financial might in Scotland, yet as noted by McInnes he has to constantly wheel and deal in order to improve. They might have a monetary advantage relative to their peers north of the border, but that isn’t growing year after year. He must make the most of what he has with little growth available. On top of that, McInnes argues that:

People can say we have a financial advantage but we could throw it back and say we don’t have our own training facilities.

We have to go half-an-hour in a mini bus across town to get to a school to have a decent surface to train on. Other clubs can walk straight into their own training grounds but our players just get on with it.

Fair enough, though Aberdeen have unveiled plans for a new stadium and a training facility to be potentially completed by 2020.

Hibernian v Aberdeen - Scottish Cup Semi-Final
A real sense of team.
Photo by Ian MacNicol/Getty Images

Tactically, Sunderland have looked average for a long time - with a brief glimmer of hope flickering under Sam Allardyce. McInnes, however, has been praised for his approach to the game, with the Daily Record arguing that:

McInnes doesn't get enough credit period, but in particular he's extremely underrated when it comes to the tactical side of the game.

Moving Graeme Shinnie into a central midfield role has been inspired, and is straight out of the Pep Guardiola playbook with the way the Spaniard used Phillip Lahm at Bayern Munich.

McInnes loves using his two wingers Niall McGinn and Jonny Hayes to fire crosses into the box for Adam Rooney and Jayden Stockley, but there is so much more to his Dons side than that.

He does a great job of taking into account the opposition's strengths while also implementing his own style to help his be successful.

McInnes has experimented with three at the back and a diamond in midfield, this isn't a manager who is tied to one formation like Ronny Deila or Mark Warburton.

Perhaps the comparison to Pep was something of a stretch, but the praise heaped upon the Scot is certainly something to be optimistic about. His willingness to experiment is a contrast when compared to the likes of Moyes, Poyet and even O’Neill and Bruce - who were stubborn in their tactical approaches, which in turn hastened their demise.

Hull City v Sunderland - Premier League
Moyes’ negativity and tactical rigidity were factors in this most recent abject campaign.
Photo by Stu Forster/Getty Images

Ultimately, although we need positive noises and actions coming from whomever is declared manager, fans of the club must guard their reasoning with tempered patience. Rome wasn’t built in a day, and Sunderland won’t be fixed within a year.

Back in December of last year Scottish newspaper, The Daily Record, ran the following article:

Don and dusted: Derek McInnes has made poor signings, his tactics are hopeless and he needs to GO!

Aberdeen fans take to Twitter to vent their fury after the Reds fall further behind Rangers following 2-1 loss to ten-man Ross County.

Yet in the last month the exact same newspaper ran this story:

Why Aberdeen boss Derek McInnes should be regarded as the best Scottish manager

His work with the Pittdorie side doesn't get the credit it deserves and we look at what has made his Dons side so successful in recent seasons.

In the dynamic, polar world of football management, fans often become impatient with their club at the smallest sign of misfortune. Some may argue that David Moyes was a victim of such an idea, yet 26 defeats and constant negativity would argue otherwise. Fans of the club will reward anyone with patience so long as there are signs of improvement and hope.

McInnes seems like a good fit, but if truth be told no single appointment can guarantee success. And Sunderland fans must be patient as we enter a period of transition.

I’ll leave you with a quote from the Daily Record published in March of this year:

Derek McInnes is the most underrated manager in Scottish football.

Not just that, he might very well be the best Scottish boss plying his trade right now.

His continues to amaze with Aberdeen but for some reason his stellar work doesn't quite get the recognition it deserves.

This is a serious football manager, who has transformed the Dons from underachieving sleeping giants to the second force in Scottish football.

Should he be installed as manager of Sunderland, let’s hope he can bring his winning mentality and desire to succeed to Wearside.