Derek McInnes focused on Aberdeen progress amid Rangers speculation

By Richard WilsonBBC Scotland
Aberdeen players are congratulated by manager Derek McInnes
McInnes (right) says he is happy with his job at Pittodrie
Scottish Cup quarter-final - Aberdeen v Partick Thistle
Date: Sunday, 5 March Kick-off: 15:00 GMT Venue: Pittodrie
Coverage: Live on BBC Scotland. Commentary on BBC Radio Scotland; live text coverage on BBC Sport website & app.

Derek McInnes wants his time at Aberdeen to be distinguished by trophies and achievement, but longevity is also prized by managers.

On Sunday, he faces the only contemporary who has managed his club longer in the Scottish Premiership, a distinction Partick Thistle's Alan Archibald holds by three days.

Significant dates abound for McInnes. On 25 March, he will have been Aberdeen manager for four years.

Only one of his 10 predecessors - Jimmy Calderwood - spent longer in charge at Pittodrie.

In November, McInnes will celebrate 10 years in management and the only break so far has been the two months between his departure from Bristol City and his arrival at Aberdeen.

He has amassed plenty of admiration in that time, but the drive and the motivation remain undiminished.

"Management is a long game," he says. "I still feel that I'm a young manager. I still feel I'm the same person I was."

For McInnes, that is a manager who believes in establishing values and standards. He "sets the pace" of the club through his own work and is demanding of his players and his staff, as well as the directors and executives.

This Aberdeen side has built their record - third place then consecutive runners-up spots in the Premiership, the 2013-14 Scottish League Cup, finalists again this season - on the unity and level of performance that McInnes inspires.

Sir Alex Ferguson shares a joke
Sir Alex Ferguson phoned McInnes with advice about his own experience of losing cup finals

That trophy at Celtic Park three years ago was a defining moment, since Aberdeen last won the competition 19 years before. McInnes can remember the celebrations clearly, but it is a reflection of his personality that he is reluctant to look back.

"It was nice to enjoy it at the time, but I don't get any real pleasure looking back," he says. "I want another reference point. A Scottish Cup win would help that."

He guided Aberdeen to the semi-final in his first full season in charge but lost to St Johnstone and then was knocked out in the fourth round two seasons running.

McInnes acknowledges that his team did not play as well as they hoped against Celtic in this season's League Cup final but points to their form since then - and the desire to reach the Scottish Cup final - as an insight into the spirit he has forged.

"We feel in every game other than the cup final we've been very close to Celtic in the 90 minutes and done a lot of things right," he says.

"We had to impose ourselves on the game more. All we'd spoken about all week was to be aggressive, make it the type of game that Celtic wouldn't enjoy, we didn't want their better players to have the space to work.

Aberdeen's Shay Logan is left disappointed as Celtic celebrate
Aberdeen were left disappointed by their 3-0 League Cup final defeat by Celtic

"But we felt they found it a bit too easy against us. That's the disappointing thing.

"I said afterwards that the intention was to get to the Scottish Cup final and the quicker we got back to a cup final is really the antidote to how we felt after that.

"Our reaction has been good since then and the players deserve credit for digging in.

"We've got a tough tie with Partick. You can see managers who do the work with their team, they're very organised - they're more than capable of beating us if we don't have a good day."

The week after losing the League Cup final to Celtic, McInnes received a phone call from Sir Alex Ferguson.

During their conversation, the former Aberdeen and Manchester United manager told of the finals he lost in his career.

"He said that he had lost 11 cup finals and that he looks at two or three games he could have done better, whether he picked the wrong team, made his subs too early, chased the game too early," McInnes says.

Derek McInnes and Paul Gascoigne celebrate Rangers' ninth league title in a row in 1997
McInnes was part of the Rangers side that clinched a ninth league title in a row in 1997

"He said for a lot of them it was the game, the occasion, his team just didn't perform and that's guys with 600 games and caps.

"He also said that it's only by revisiting finals time and time again that they become more natural to you."

Time spent with McInnes reveals a manager with a clear sense of purpose. He is ambitious, for himself, for his club and he wants to make his mark at Aberdeen.

The progress, coupled with his past as a Rangers player, has led to speculation that he might be among the candidates to succeed Mark Warburton at Ibrox.

McInnes is typically sure-footed in his response.

"It is speculation," he says. "I am happy and my relationship with the chairman and the players is vitally important to me.

"I've got to be focused on Aberdeen. I can't demand that from the players every week if I don't demand that from myself and my staff."

Derek McInnes on the sidelines during his time with Bristol City
McInnes thinks he did a lot of his best work while with Bristol City

There remains an ambition to return one day to England, where his time with Bristol City was spent fire-fighting rather than building something worthwhile, as he did at St Johnstone and is at Aberdeen.

"People say it was a failed experience, but we kept the team up from a really desperate situation that we inherited, a club bottom of the league by 10 points," he adds.

"We then had to reduce the wage bill by half while still trying to compete.

"I feel as though I did a lot of my better work at Bristol City. You don't always get the reward for it.

"I'm protective of my career, whatever I do next, but I've got to be working for good people with some stability.

"I'm only 45. I still feel there are a lot of things to experience in the future.

"I would like to operate in England again and there are certain things I'd like to do, but if you look too far ahead of yourself, you end up out of the game.

"We need to keep moving Aberdeen on."

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