Wednesday 16 January 2019

McLeish bolt for blues

Birmingham fans facing the bitter prospect exiting boss could become Villain

ALEX McLEISH has become the red hot favourite to take over as Aston Villa manager, after controversially resigning from Villa’s bitter rivals Birmingham City.

McLeish's resignation came on an eventful day for managers in the top two divisions in England, with Steve McClaren accepting the Nottingham Forest manager's job and Malky Mackay moving from Watford to the vacant Cardiff City job. There was no official indication that McLeish, 52, has been offered the Villa job. There was little doubt in football circles that McLeish had another job in mind, given that he resigned via an email to chairman Peter Pannu from his holiday in Italy. By resigning he has forfeited the payoff he would be entitled to under the terms of his contract that had two years left to run.


The Villa owner, Randy Lerner, and chief executive, Paul Faulkner, have also expressed an interest in the Uruguayan coach Gus Poyet, who won promotion to the Championship with Brighton & Hove Albion last season. Former Barcelona boss Frank Rijkaard, currently out of work, is another option open to them. The club are eager that their next manager establishes an “identity” for Villa, the lack of one being something they perceive as a problem.

Where McLeish fits into that plan is not clear. There was little sense last night that he would be welcomed by Villa supporters. Despite the ferocious rivalry between the two Birmingham clubs, McLeish always enjoyed a cordial relationship with the Villa hierarchy and was close to Martin O'Neill during his time as Villa manager. The two men had also been on opposite sides when managing Rangers and Celtic in Scotland.

In his last contract negotiations with Birmingham he signed a three-year deal last September. However, having been relegated on the last day of the season – the second time he has been relegated from the Premier League since he took over in November 2007 – McLeish was given cautious backing by the club's board, who made it clear that the requirement this coming season was promotion. McLeish won the Carling Cup last season, the club's first major trophy in 48 years, a notable achievement given their resources.

That was overshadowed by relegation and McLeish's relations with the Birmingham board were strained. However, that would be nothing compared to the likely reaction from Birmingham supporters were he to take the job at Villa. If it is McLeish who is to take over at Villa it would represent the end of a process that has, at times, looked painfully inept ever since Gerard Houllier agreed he would have to step down for health reasons. Having shown interest in Mark Hughes, Villa rejected the opportunity to give him the position once he quit Fulham.

They rejected McClaren because of fears about the supporters' reaction to appointing a manager who attracted such widespread criticism during his ill-fated spell in charge of the England team. Villa then pursued Roberto Martinez, but the Wigan manager opted on Thursday night to stay with the Latics.

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