Aberdeen’s £1 million man

When we think of seven figure signings in Scotland we look to the old firm clubs. Celtic have signed the likes of Robbie Keane, Scott Brown, Paolo Di Canio and Stuart Armstrong for well over £1 million.

The Hoops broke their transfer record in 2018 when they made Odsonne Edouard’s loan move from PSG permanent for a reported £8 million. 

Rangers have similarly spent well over £1 million on players like Mikel Arteta, Giovanni van Bronckhorst, Ryan Kent and Steven Davis. The Gers have also broken the £10 million mark on one occasion when they signed Norwegian Tore Andre Flo from Chelsea for £12 million, the biggest transfer fee ever in Scottish history.

Never in your wildest dreams could you imagine a team outside the top two behemoths of Scottish football parting ways with £1 million for a player. Well it’s already happened once before. 

That player was Paul Bernard.

Bernard was a Scottish midfielder who began his career with Oldham Athletic, where he famously scored in his second game for the club, ending their 68-year wait for a return to top flight football.

The midfielder would solidify his place in the squad and be crucial in helping the latics survive in the Premier Division for three years before being relegated on the final day of the 1993-94 season. 

The Scottish Under-21 international would stay at Boundary park for another year in which he continued to impress. His form caught the eye of then Scotland manager Craig Brown, who called up the 22-year-old for the Kirkin cup in Japan.

Bernard made his international debut 13 minutes from the final whistle against Japan. His second and final cap came against Ecuador, where he played the full 90. The youngster returned to Oldham as a full international in the Summer 1995 and he was now looking for a new challenge.

North of the border Aberdeen were struggling with the sacking of club legend Willie Miller and their quick descent from the summit of Scottish football.

The board believed that a statement of intent had to be made.

Paul Bernard became the first, and only, player to be signed for £1 million outside of the old firm.

His time in the north-east started off quite brightly. During his first season under Roy Atkins, he would pick up some silverware with a League Cup win in November. The Dons would then finish the season in third place, although they were still 28 points behind second placed Celtic.

The million pound man was still only 23, Aberdeen looked as though they had a spring in their step and European football was returning to Pittodrie. Even though it was a successful season, Bernard struggled to live up to the price tag and adapt to the Scottish game.

In his first season with the Dons the midfielder made 30 appearances, he would only make 40 over the next three years.

These three seasons would be plagued with injuries for the former Scotland International. His bad luck with fitness led to his loss of form and confidence.Due to his lacklustre performances on the pitch, Bernard’s million pound price tag became a punchline off it.

The midfielder saw somewhat of a career renaissance during the 1999-2000 season, he played more regularly and also managed to bag four goals.

After many years of trying to compete with the old firm, Aberdeen were now in serious debt and Bernard had become the face of their frivolous spending in the transfer market.

When Ebbe Skovdahl took charge a new cost cutting era at Pittodrie was introduced, which brought Paul Bernard’s time in the north-east to an end .

The once highly regarded midfield prospect left Aberdeen for the final time in his Ferrari in October 2000. Bernard was released by the Dons.

He would cross the border again this time heading to Barnsley, where he failed to make an appearance in his only season at the club. Bernard later moved to Plymouth, where again he struggled for game time, before returning to Scotland to sign for St Johnstone.

After appearing sporadically for the Perth club for a couple of years, the two-time Scotland international moved to Irish side Drogheda United where he would retire.

When Bernard signed for Aberdeen it was meant to usher in a new era of Scottish football, however, he became the poster boy for the Dons financial mismanagement in the late 1990’s. 

Over 25 years later and no club outside of the old firm has ever risked parting with £1 million for a player. Who knows if or when we will witness anything like it again in Scottish football.

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