Is Alex McLeish really the right man for the Aston Villa job?

Alex McLeish became only the second ever manager to manage both Aston Villa and Birmingham, the other Ron Saunders, after deciding to accept the post vacant at Villa Park last week. The appointment of McLeish was met with uproar from both sides of the Midlands with Birmingham and Villa fans outraged after learning he would become the new manager of Aston Villa.


McLeish left Birmingham after their relegation from the Premier League, and despite leading them to their first major trophy in 48 years; he resigned from the job after the heartbreak of relegation. But to the amazement and dismay of Brum fans, he decided to join up with their bitter rivals Villa, in a deal believed to be worth £2 million a year on a three-year contract, £1.2 million more than he would have consequently earned with Birmingham in the Championship.


Protests have been ongoing at Villa Park against the appointment of the Scotsman, who is likely to be the most unpopular manager ever to take charge of the Midlands club. McLeish’s appointment capped an end to a frustrating period for Villa after Gerard Houllier’s departure by mutual consent due to on-going health problems. Martinez was granted permission to talk to Villa by Wigan but instead decided to remain at the DW stadium and leave Villa looking for alternative options, with an immediate decision being made after it became public knowledge McLeish was no longer the manager of Birmingham City.


Although many Villa fans will argue that if McLeish managed to get their nearest rivals relegated he could potentially do the same to them, he will undoubtedly be given far more security in his job here, and will be given funds to spend by Randy Lerner, something he was promised at Birmingham but came to no avail, albeit contributing to their failure to remain in the Premier League. He will have to do his best to persuade Stewart Downing to stay after continued interest from Liverpool and speculation he will hand in a transfer request. With Ashley Young already on his way out, after completing a move in the region of 16 to 20 million pounds to Manchester United, McLeish has a big challenge on his hands to say the least.


McLeish’s track record is not the worst you will ever see put it that way. He started off his managerial career with spells at Motherwell and Hibernian before arriving at Ibrox, where in five years he led Rangers to two championships and five cup wins. McLeish then spent ten months as manager of the Scotland national team where he narrowly missed out on the 2008 European Championships, before returning to club management with Birmingham. Although he was powerless to see them getting relegated that season, he took them straight back up from the Championship the following season, before cementing them in a mid-table position in the Barclays Premier League in the 2009/2010 season.


Last season undoubtedly featured possibly the highest and lowest points of McLeish’s managerial career as thus far, leading Birmingham to Carling Cup glory defeating Arsenal, only to collapse dramatically in the second half of the season as they were relegated on the last day of the season at Tottenham, the final nail in the coffin in McLeish’s managerial reign at the West Midlands club.


Former boss Gerard Houlier has urged Villa fans to get behind their new manager, believing him to be a smart acquisition from the Villa board. He said: “I think Gabby Agbonlahor said some comments about giving him a chance – and I agree. He’s football through and through and I think he’s a good signing for the club.


“I’ve known him a long time and he’s a nice person and a straightforward guy. I think Alex is strong enough. He’s got the personnel to win football matches.”


McLeish will give a fresh chance to players such as Stephen Ireland, Stephen Warnock and Habib Beye, who had little opportunity to play under Houllier.


“There will be a clean slate for not only the young players but also the players already here. That includes those who perhaps were probably in the doldrums, those not playing at their best. Maybe we can give them a spark by coming in. It’s a clean slate for everybody.”


The upcoming season will be the biggest challenge McLeish has ever faced without doubt, he needs to transform the Villa team back into a top half side, and even more importantly win over the vast majority of fans currently against him, they will be crucial to what success he could bring to the club.


Alex could prove to be the stability the club has needed after the sudden departure of Martin O’Neill on the eve of the first game of the Premier League season last year. He certainly has the credentials, if he is given the time to develop the squad, with both the younger and more experienced players in the team, and adds a number of fresh faces to it, with funds promised from the board, there is no reason McLeish can’t get Villa to at least a top ten finish next term.


Sean Gallagher

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