It is very difficult to remain rational through what is becoming an ever more intriguing search for a new manager. We have collectively pondered an initial list of candidates, investigated the possibility of Roberto Martinez, before embarking down a new set of candidates. Which leads us, quite perversely, to Alex McLeish.
The news of McLeish’s departure from Birmingham City was reported as being a shock. But when you look at it rationally, the goalposts have well and truly moved at Blues; even by their standards. Love them, or more likely loathe them, Birmingham’s previous owners at least provided some measure of stability for their club. Under Carson Yeung you would be hard pressed to have any trust in him paying for a round at the bar. So much so that City’s very existence has been the subject of some debate. With the prospect of the best players leaving, the club you manage doing a “Portsmouth” and your reputation going down the drain with it – what would you do? Oh and throw in the expectation of an immediate return to the top flight. If I were McLeish, supping a cocktail in Corsica, I too would have shot off a resigned email to Peter Panno (Blues acting Chairman).
The Villa faithful have responded in true cataclysmic style at the prospect of McLeish being offered the job. Indeed, some perspective was brought to the equation as those previously damning any appointment of Steve McClaren promptly did an about turn in views. And one must be careful when weighing up the likelihood of McLeish taking up the hotseat, because it is a very real possibility.
The club have been guarded in their hunt for a new manager although the jury is very much out as to whether this is a good thing. This has amusingly but also frustratingly meant that the wider media has been wholly wrong every single day since Gerrard Houllier left the job and many inches of newspaper columns have been labelling idle gossip as fact. But sooner or later they will be right, and with a decreasing list of candidates for the role, McLeish becoming Villa boss looks suddenly quite plausible.
Irrelevant of where you sit on his suitability it is important to disregard his previous ties. Yes he was the Birmingham City boss. But we will come to that later. First and foremost we should remember that his managing history is chequered but not entirely unimpressive. Let’s look at his good work with Birmingham first of all. McLeish turned a Blues team that was truly one of the worst teams to ever grace the Premiership into a difficult unit to beat. You could never suggest that the team he put together was a class act of free-flowing football, but the defensive qualities made Birmingham’s resolve very impressive. The trouble Blues had was they could only afford adequate bodies to produce an average starting eleven. Beyond that, the barrel looked well and truly scraped. But was that McLeish’s fault?
McLeish also lifted Birmingham back to the Premiership promptly after relegation at the first attempt. He was not gifted enormous amounts of funds to do this but they managed it with annoying ease. Let us not forget that he also steered City to their first trophy in nearly fifty years. It pains every Villa fan to think of it, but he did what Martin O’Neill could not; deliver silverware. The League Cup would not be unwelcome at Villa Park, ever, and we should not think of ourselves as above it.
Looking further back McLeish learnt his trade in Scotland managing in the SPL where he was rewarded with taking the reigns at Rangers. Whilst it could be argued that he inherited a good team from Walter Smith, he was ultimately the man at the helm winning seven trophies. Whilst Scottish honours do not carry the same weight as those earned in the Premiership, he also guided Rangers to the last 16 of the Champions League. That in itself cannot go unrecognised. Nor should comparisons be drawn to O’Leary’s money fueled Leeds United’s similar European exploits – McLeish managed Rangers past the group stages on utter peanuts.
But these successes are offset against some glaring problems which if Villa are pondering his appointment, will likely be cause for concern amongst the board.
Positives firmly aside, McLeish presided over two relegations of our bitterest rivals. The most recent of which could arguably be the most worrying for Villa as potential employers. Birmingham never really seemed in the relegation battle, flirting they were as Villa did, but appearing up to their necks until it was too late. Telling managerial decisions are glaring with the benefit of hindsight. For instance; Blues’ defensive cover was woefully lacking when Dann became injured towards the season finale. Replacements and decision making like that to acquire Curtis Davies just do not cut it. And Cameron Jerome? This was the best they could get to lead the attack after Zigic (a debate in itself).
Now, the interpretation of who is to blame could differ. Looking at the players Birmingham had, they could arguably have got out of the mess they were in. Losing at home to Fulham probably finished them in terms of morale. Should their senior players, Bowyer, Ferguson, Carr not have been rallying around McLeish to steer a ship in trouble around the rocks? As Villa fans we care not a jot, but was the manner of Birmingham’s downfall his entire doing?
And will the manner of his departure from Birmingham prove a stumbling block in itself? One cannot imagine the scene in which an Aston Villa manager resigned by e-mail. And certainly not to General Krulak. But as Randy Lerner values loyalty and would not want a repeat of the O’Neill walkout, this could prove a small but decisive factor. In any event it will be interesting to see how McLeish’s resignation, still presently rejected by Birmingham, pans out.
As Villa fans we must remain rational. McLeish might well have long ago been discounted from the role. Indeed he could well have never been under consideration. His resignation may merely be the act of a man desperate trying to get off the ship as it surges towards the ocean floor. But. And it’s a big BUT. If Villa make a decision to appoint him, then we must back him.
Meeting such an appointment, as would have met McLaren’s, with apathy and so dismissively should not be the way of Aston Villa. We have had the O’Neill’s, Atkinson’s and Houllier’s of this world. Where has it got us? No further forward or backwards than your average O’Leary or Gregory! An appointment out of left field (or in this case maybe; Mordor) would be a colossal gamble. But as colossal as choosing a rookie like Martinez?
McLeish? It seems almost logical. Almost. But then maybe not.
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>> Candidates for the Villa Job. See them here.
>> Ashley Young off to Man Utd. Good or Bad?