The shortest Dark Blue Don career of the 80's was that of Steve Archibald, who had just 42 minutes of action against Portugal on March 26, 1980 in his one and only Scotland international while an Aberdeen player. That same evening another Don embarked on his international career, and in marked contrast Alex McLeish not only became the most capped Aberdeen player of all time, but went on to set new standards as the most capped Scottish defender ever.
Born on January 21, 1959, Alex McLeish first came to prominence in the mid-1970s as a promising youngster with juvenile side Glasgow United. Alex started his competitive career with United's under-12 side before joining Barrhead Youth, but returned to Glasgow United when Barrhead folded. Several top clubs, including Rangers, were interested on securing the young defender's signature, but Alex's father advised the youngster to join the Dons as he felt his son would be given every chance to develop at Pittodrie.
McLeish senior's advice proved wise indeed. Alex signed for the Dons in 1976 and had a spell farmed out to local junior side Lewis United during the 1976/77 season. Following Lewis' exit from the Scottish Junior Cup, McLeish was recalled to Pittodrie and played over 20 games for the reserve team in Ally McLeod's last days at Pittodrie. New boss Bill McNeill was impressed by McLeish, and on January 2, 1978, the reserve centre half received a shock call-up to a first-team spot alongside Willie Miller after incumbent Willie Garner was given a one game disciplinary ban by the manager. Although obviously a little raw and nervous early on, Alex did not put a foot wrong during a 1-0 win over Dundee United. Garner reclaimed his first-team berth five days later, but young McLeish had sampled the big time and was keen for more.
Alex's big break came in September, 1978, by which time Alex Ferguson had taken over as manager. Once again McLeish profited at the expense of the unfortunate Willie Garner. Garner broke a leg in Aberdeen's European Cup Winner's Cup clash against Marek Dimitrov in Bulgaria, and four days later Alex was thrown in at the deep end for a Dons League visit to Ibrox. Again the youngster performed above his years, although he had the unlucky experience of conceding a penalty which gave Rangers the lead before a late Dom Sullivan equaliser earned Aberdeen a creditable 1-1 draw. A 14 game run in the first team was ended by injury, and for a spell Alex was replaced in the centre of defence by big Doug Rougvie.
By March 1979, manager Ferguson felt he had to find a place for McLeish in his side, and he was given a midfield role for the 1978/79 season. In midfield Alex showed a zest for tackling, and used his height and developing physique to good effect. But he also showed that he had ability on the ball and could be creative as well. Indeed young McLeish's performances in midfield won him recognition at under 21-level, with caps against Wales, USA, Belgium and England over a two year period. His first under-21 cap actually came in February 1978, while he was still a reserve team player.
With Garner fit again at the start of the 1979/80 season, Alex continued in midfield, but a 2-1 home defeat at the hands of Kilmarnock on February 23, 1980, convinced Alex Ferguson that a change had to be made in the centre of defence. Doug Rougvie got the nod for the Dons next fixture at home to Partick Thistle, but on March 15, Alex was given the No.5 jersey.
This tactical switch transformed Aberdeen's title challenge and suddenly the Dons were on a roll which would end two months later with the League Championship trophy at Pittodrie and McLeish entrenched as the perfect foil for Willie Miller.
Shortly after his "conversion" to centre back, Alex received his first full Scotland call, and at just over 21 years of age he was firmly established as one of Scotland's brightest prospects. As mentioned earlier, McLeish's first cap came against Portugal in 1980 in a meaningless European Championship qualifier. The Scots were unable to qualify, and manager Jock Stein decided to experiment with one eye on the 1982 World Cup Finals. Alex lined up in midfield alongside Archie Gemmill and Graeme Souness, but played in a deep role in front of the back four.
Stein was pleased with Alex's efforts saying that "he did all that was asked of him". The youngster also had the bonus of threading through the pass that led to Scotland's second goal in a 4-1 victory.
Over the following two seasons Alex was a regular in the Scotland set-up, primarily in the centre of defence. He played one of the finest internationals ever in a 1-0 win at Wembley in May 1981 when both he and Willie Miller established their top flight credentials to dubious English pundits. On the eve of the 1982 World Cup Finals in Spain, Stein saw fit to put Alan Evans of Aston Villa ahead of McLeish in his master plan, and the big Don's World Cup was restricted to a 20 minute run as a substitute against Brazil.
At club level Alex continued his development although still regarded as the junior partner in the Miller/McLeish partnership. As he grew in stature and confidence McLeish quickly emerged as a force in his own right, and a remarkable on-field tete-a-tete with Miller at Tannadice at the beginning of the 1981-82 season established Alex's authority with his skipper.
From then on the pair developed into arguably the finest central defensive partnership in Europe. McLeish was a vital ingredient in the Dons rise to European prominence and domestic domination over the early and mid-1980s, and while revelling in the big match atmosphere he could be relied on to play with terrific consistency whether at Boghead or the Bernabeu.
He was immense in the air, and was extremely difficult to pass on the deck, where his long legs often denied opponents with a timely tackle. The Dons used his aerial ability to great effect from set pieces, with his "late arrival" up front a regular feature.
Following the Don's 1983 European Cup Winners Cup triumph in Gothenburg, McLeish became an automatic choice as Scotland's centre half, and over the May, 1983 to December, 1985 period played 23 consecutive internationals. His 1986 Mexico World Cup was curtailed when he fell ill after the opener against Denmark, but his disappointment over that was well behind him by thetime he was handed the honour of skippering Scotland for his 50th cap against Luxemburg in December, 1987.
On October 11, 1989 in a World Cup tie versus France at the Parc des Princes, Alex set a new club record of 65 caps. He went on to add 12 more to that record, playing in all three ties in Scotland's 1990 World Cup Finals appearance in Italy, before playing in his last International for Scotland against Malta at Ibrox on February 17, 1993.
At club level over the same period McLeish took over from the injured Willie Miller as club captain and led the Dons to success in the dramatic 1990 Scottish Cup Final. He remained at Pittodrie until the summer of 1994, when he became manager of Motherwell. Alex then moved on to Hibernian and is now manager of Rangers.