Aston Villa are planning to interview Alex McLeish, the manager of Birmingham City who tendered his resignation at St Andrews on Sunday, imminently, despite opposition from the club’s supporters to the man most recently in charge of their most bitter rivals.
A statement released by Villa on Tuesday evening said: “The club understands that Alex McLeish is a free agent. We therefore intend to interview him imminently.
“In deciding to interview McLeish, the board has taken his tenure at our local rivals and the strong emotions associated with this very seriously.”
Nonetheless, it is understood that a protest from Villa fans, against the clubs board, and their intention to speak to the man who guided Birmingham to League Cup success in February, and relegation in May, is set to take place at Villa Park this evening at 6pm. Indeed many of the clubs supporters have been so outraged that they will not renew their season tickets should McLeish step forward.
However, in their statement, the Villa board were keen to stress that should Alex McLeish present himself as the right man for the job, then they will not discount him due to his association with Birmingham City.
“We are determined, still, not to allow that three-and-a-half-year post [at Birmingham] to disqualify him should he be the best candidate for the role of Aston Villa manager,” continued the statement.
“From the beginning of our search, we have set out criteria based on proven Premier League experience, compelling leadership, an ethic for hard work and, most importantly, sharing our vision for Aston Villa.
“We know that without a shared vision any appointment, however attractive, will ultimately fail.
“We feel it is essential to select a manager who understands and supports our strategy for the club to grow and to be sustainable.”
Nevertheless, despite McLeish tendering his resignation, and Villa treating him as a free agent, the Birmingham board have immediately responded with their own statement, saying that they believe their manager has been “tapped up” and that they will lodge their own formal complaint.
“Birmingham finds Villa’s announcement to proceed with an interview with Alex McLeish a contempt of Premier League and FA rules” read the statement from St Andrews.
“The club feel this will taint football and give the game and the footballing authorities a bad name if this is allowed to materialise. We will lodge a formal complaint as there is now not the slightest doubt remaining about this tap up attempt.
“This conduct, if condoned, will open up floodgates and set a very bad precedent. It is also an attack against the intelligence and integrity of not only the Villa fans, but most importantly our fans who are badly let down after relegation.”
Comment: Well this affair is all getting very, very messy. And in the end the real loser in the whole situation could well prove to be Alex McLeish, whether he ends up becoming the manager of Aston Villa or not.
If this becomes a legal affair, and McLeish is placed on ‘gardening leave’ for the remaining two years of his contract at Birmingham City, then a good manager will go to waste, and will not be able to prove his managerial prowess, at a club where he will be given more funds with which to work, and an opportunity to prove his worth at the top end of the Premier League.
His track record with Glasgow Rangers and the Scottish national side – not to mention his promotion, first season stabilising and League Cup success at Birmingham – would deem him more than qualified to deserve a crack at trying to guide the Villains into the top six places, which Martin O’Neill managed for three successive seasons before his surprise departure. Yet it would appear the the Blues board appear dead-set against it and will do anything in their power to stop such a move.
However, if McLeish does take the reins at Villa Park, then it would appear that he will not be welcomed by Villa supporters either, and will not be given the chance to turn their affections towards him, so outraged seem the majority.
If he were to step into the offices at Bodymoor Heath on a day-to-day basis, and was unable to produce victory after victory in his opening few matches, then he’d be on a hiding to nothing, as would Randy Lerner, the club’s owner. The only way for McLeish to have any time at Villa Park, is to go there and make a stunning impact to make the supporters forget about the prior controversy. Unfortunately for McLeish, the new Premier League season doesn’t get underway for another two months.
With one move, McLeish could alienate both sides of one city, and become a hated figure, with supporters new and old. If he is willing to do so, then he must have one hell of an amount of self-belief. Yet, after a career defined by physical and mental toughness, as both a player and a manager, maybe the challenge of changing the perceptions of those in claret-and-blue, will appeal to Big ‘Eck, and create conditions with which he could thrive.