The confirmation that Alex McLeish is the next manager of Aston Villa draws to a close one of the most bizarre periods following the Villa that many can recall. And most can remember the not so distant Doug Ellis era. But regardless of which side of the fence you sat on in terms of McLeish’s suitability; the time for animosity, indifference and outright negativity must now stop.
The reasoning for this is simple. He is now in the same position as any other person who could have taken to the hotseat. As a fanbase we can ultimately judge him as we would any other; results.
To McLeish’s credit he has been silent where those of lesser moral standing would have walked away and washed their hands of the chance to manage our team. One can read a great deal into the psyche and determination of an individual who not only crosses a city divide, but in doing so appears happy to prove protesters, pessimists and malaise wrong.
And as Aston Villa fans we must retain some perspective.
Whilst I imagine we held conversations with the Benitez and perhaps even sounded out Ancellotti – are we in a position to offer them either a transfer kitty or the cumulative wages to fund the types of plans they would hold? The question is naturally rhetorical. This is not to say that we set our stall too low either – but perhaps this is the first appointment in a number of years that matches our realistic aspirations rather than our heady ambitions.
McLeish brings experience and discipline to a club which has had sporadic injections of both in recent years. O’Neill brought exhuberance and the knowledge of the winning Clough mentality. Houllier reigned in the seemingly embarrassing lack of professionalism amongst our senior squad. McLeish encompasses the know how of being steered towards a winning mentality by a manager such as Ferguson with the grit and guile which enabled him to make Scotland and then Birmingham competitive again. Whilst neither attribute leap out, there is a natural balance.
And he must be given a chance.
This is a man who has the opportunity of a lifetime. With the backing of our board and the backing of passionate supporters, who are we to say that this couldn’t reap unexpected rewards? Let us not forget that this is the same man who achieved absolute wonders with a Birmingham team, that in most Villa fans lifetime, had never even been in the same division, let alone beaten the claret and blue. Despise those painful memories, he did things with Blues that nobody thought possible.
There is the fact that Birmingham were relegated twice under his stewardship. Whilst the first could be offset owing to his late arrival that season, the fact that an immediate return to the Premiership followed with his full input redeems that somewhat. Last season perhaps would stand out as the most concerning as Blues looked to be in relative safety until a horrific collapse of form towards the season close. But then, a major trophy was also won, which would be very nice indeed.
And that is not to say that the prospect of relegation is acceptable so long as we win trophies. Indeed, it is irrational to be of the mindset that McLeish will approach managing Aston Villa as he did Birmingham. We are two very different football clubs; his brief at Birmingham will have been top flight survival at all costs, but at Villa? The rules are different.
Under Randy his tools will be much improved. He will benefit from a reasonable squad, albeit in need of renewal, but that is ideal for a new boss to make their mark. He inherits a top goalscorer in Bent, creativity in Downing/Albrighton and he knows exactly how to set up a defence. Villa boast genuinely world class (briefly vandalised) training/academy facilities. The club also has history, stature and the lure that Birmingham City can only dream making reference to. And this is where McLeish could blossom.
He has managed a huge club in the shape of Rangers, and so a big club mentality is nothing new to him. That’s why he was likely unphased by some bedsheet waving on the Holte End steps this week. This is a man who has been privy to the vicious sectarian derbys which make the streets Glasgow look like Kabul. Whilst not wanting to diminish the level of rivalry between Villa and Blues, the level of expectation, pressure and potential physical threat he was subject to in those days must secretly draw a wry smile from the new boss. One feels he could well be in his element.
And the distinction lies here: He has undergone an apprenticeship of sorts with Birmingham. He had it tough; with bizarre financial arrangements, a dubious owner and being undermined repeatedly behind the scenes. It’s a wonder they didn’t finish bottom, let alone drop into the mixer on the final day. The manner in which McLeish was allegedly treated by Birmingham, their most successful manager ever by the way, means that he is perhaps well versed in the worst parts of managing in England. At Villa he will have the stability and support to get on and work to his strengths.
Whilst managing Villa won’t be easy, he will have the tools to build success.
Much debate will be had over the weeks ahead, particularly as the transfer hype will now replace manager speculation. Likely there will be surprises, but nothing can be gauged until the teams take to the field against Fulham on the opening day. Until then, speculation is all talk will be, but one thing is for sure, disdain and relentless abuse will not help the club one jot. Whilst you may not have counted McLeish amongst your idols, he is now the gaffer of our great football club. It is time to be a supporter of it.
As Villa fans we should welcome Alex McLeish. He is our manager. A man who despite all he must have seen, all he may well have read, walked into Villa Park and felt the same tingling down his spine as the rest of us each time we breathe in the air pre-match on the Holte End. That very notion should resonate, that he must have recalled the hallways as a visiting coach, the immense stadium and the eyes of past greats boring into his skull. Who would turn down the opportunity to be a part of it every week, and perhaps, etch your name in the long history of a our great club.
He could not turn down the chance to lead a founder of world football, dripping in history but yearning to find its next great success. That is our club, once mighty but in need of new ideas and a new approach. One never knows in football what the outcome might be – but to dismiss McLeish; a brave, bold and respected man would be idiotic.
And whilst the buck could quite literally stop at the door of our chairman, few can now accuse him of being weak or unable to make a brave choice once in a while. Whilst it might not be unreasonable to assume he considers there to be an element of risk, so humble a man Lerner is, if it goes right, it would be unimaginable of him to say “told you so”. Even though to many, he could in the future have a strong case to do so.
Finally it’s worth pondering the following: Would we rather a repeat of the extravagances of the O’Neill era, where false promises were built upon great expense with no reward? Or would we rather back a determined man, who works tirelessly and has nailed his colours to our mast, against all opposition, but whom shares the same goal of wanting to succeed as us? Maybe it’s time to go with the honesty and integrity of a McLeish over the faux passion of an ego-manic like O’Neill?
One this is sure: The answer will naturally, come with time.
Welcome Alex, let me show you the trophy room…