Perhaps it had been the years of decline that dominated the 90s at Pittodrie
but the Aberdeen board certainly raised a few eyebrows when they appointed Brondby
boss Skovdahl. On closer analysis however, it soon became apparent which way
the club was headed.
Gone were the days of the transfer market - it was a time for reflection and
some careful planning. Financially the club were in turmoil, years of spending
on players and high wages had taken its toll. Something had to give and a new
outlook prevailed. Skovdahl had all the ingredients that Aberdeen were looking
for having taken Danish club Brondby to unsurpassed heights in their history.
Skovdahl had taken his side to Pittodrie in 1996 and had obviously left an
impression in a comfortable 2-0 win for Brondby.
Although Paul Hegarty had taken the Dons to relative safety both he and assistant
Neil Cooper were told that they would not be offered the job on a permanent
basis. In the intervening period until the shock appointment of Skovdahl, the
club were slaughtered in the media and that criticism eventually gave way to
speculation of who was to take over in the summer of 1999 Aberdeen appointed
their first foreign coach, as a new era was to unfold. The new Aberdeen manager
could hardly have got off to a worse start - six defeats in the SPL and not
even a single goal scored. It was also the same squad that was in place and
in game seven against Dundee United it was another defeat but at least a goal
was scored, a free kick from Andy Dow that was greeted with a tumultuous roar
from the Pittodrie crowd.
Skovdahl's first win was stunning - an incredible 6-5 win against Motherwell
at Fir Park. In his first few months in charge Skovdahl brought new faces and
gradually began to make his mark on the side. Thomas Solberg was brought in
to shore up a defence that was leaking a record amount of goals. Arild Stavrum,
Cato Guntveit and the Moroccan duo of Hicham Zerouali and Rachid Belabed offered
a glimmer of hope of better days ahead. However, in the SPL the Dons could
do little right and it seemed a certainty that they would finish in bottom
place. Normally that would have caused great concern but there was a 'safety
net' in place due to Falkirk's well documented stadium difficulties. That eventually
would prove crucial as the Brocksville side would not be allowed entry into
the new set up thus allowing the Dons not to go through the play off scenario
that first came to light in 1995. The more cynical among the media suggested
that because of this Aberdeen could concentrate on the domestic cups.
The form book suggested they had a point - Aberdeen under Ebbe Skovdahl in
his first year had plummeted the depths in the league yet could do little wrong
in the cups, and remarkably reached both the Scottish and League Cup finals.
As the club entered the new millennium under Skovdahl it soon became apparent
that the Dons would need some major surgery to become a force again, and it
was clear that Skovdahl had his work cut out. 83 league goals told its own
story and with little prospect of getting the funds for a short term fix, season
2000 - 2001 was going to be a definitive one for the Aberdeen manager in many
What was all the more remarkable was the level of support that Ebbe Skovdahl
received from the patient Red Army. The new season opened with no faces on
board and it was by a strange quirk of fate that the Dons injury crisis at
the start of that season offered new hope. Forced to perhaps play more of the
promising younger players than he would normally have chosen to do, players
like Phil McGuire, Kevin McNaughton, Darren and Derek Young and Darren Mackie
all made their presence felt in a squad that was emerging as the youngest ever
to represent the Dons. Skovdahl also endeared himself further by accepting
a pay cut in order to help the club through what was and still is difficult
financial times. The signs of recovery soon became clear as the Dons at no
point looked like being in trouble at the wrong end of the table and although
they just missed out on a top six finish, the seeds of recovery under Ebbe
had been well and truly sown.
In Season 2002-03 the fruits of that labour were rewarded with a welcome return
to European football, a fourth place finish in the SPL was just rewarded for
the Dons manager who had guided his young side through some traumatic times
in recent seasons.
For a manager that, in his first season saw his side leak a record amount
of goals (the club's worst position since the late 60s) the transformation
has been remarkable. Clearly the introduction of the younger players who all
seem to have bonded superbly under the Dane been a telling factor in the Dons
renaissance under Ebbe Skovdahl.