By Mac Byrne
It had to happen; the inevitable scenario whereby the Manager of a relegated team jumps before he’s pushed.
We’re used to seeing over-paid players reneging on over-inflated contracts – especially when they find themselves ‘unlucky’ enough to have played their way into a lower division – pledging loyalty one minute, kissing a different badge the next. We’re also used to seeing Managers tried, convicted and ejected for the crime of relegation.
But rarely do we see a relegated Manager whose club have backed him, bought him new players, given him a specific, medium term (on the face of it, not unreasonable) target and generally shown faith in him, taking voluntary leave of his position.
Despite being given a vote of confidence and a well publicised year to get the team back into the Premier League – a luxury afforded to few in such a position – Alex McLeish has turned the air of England’s 2nd city blue and become the Villain of this piece by quitting City and targeting the job at arch rivals Aston Villa!
The plot has been further thickened by the Birmingham board’s refusal to roll over and accept this as just another Manager, disillusioned by a disappointing season, looking to try the grass of pastures new. Especially not pastures in a higher field, just around the corner and certainly not whilst already signed up to plough his existing pasture!
What began as a simple resignation has exploded into a ‘constructive dismissal’ affair – and a nasty war of words – with, in the potentially claret corner; the Manager stating he felt his authority and position had been undermined with signings not of his choosing; whilst in the blue corner, Peter Pannu, front man for owner-businessman Carson Yeung, crying foul. He points to full support by way of some £40m ‘lavished’ on McLeish for players last season, three further signings this season (apparently hand-picked BY McLeish) plus a fourth who was in the process of signing when Pannu received what would appear to be poor form in the shape of an emailed resignation.
Some may see this as disloyalty on the part of the big Scot, especially as he signed a new contract reputed to be circa £1.6m pa only last September. But many would argue that McLeish is striking a blow for managers nationwide who all too often are tossed out by a relegated club – a scapegoat for ‘blameless’ players and board alike who look to curry post-relegation favour with the fans.
Football followers may also say he has every right to be both disillusioned, to move on and to better himself. Having led Birmingham to their first major trophy in almost 50 years he was badly let down by the inept performances of his own players who left Wembley on that fervent February Sunday for more relaxed climes; spending the crucial last three months of the season on the proverbial beach with their feet up, puffing on a big fat cigar whilst the rest of the Premiership passed them by!
So, what about Villa? The press is alive with the sound of musings, everything from questioning the club’s ethics in allegedly pursuing a manager already under contract (not to mention where exactly he was contracted), to why the club would be pursuing a manager with a relatively poor (League) record, certainly not the marquee singing the Villa fans would expect or feel they deserve. There is also the question of crowd support and whether the Villa fans would actually get behind a manager with such history. Indeed even his very safety has been questioned with editor of Vital Villa, Jonathan Fear stating, ‘I would fear for McLeish’s safety walking around Birmingham’! On a lighter note, one could argue that any man who has taken Birmingham down twice in the past four years could, and should actually be hero worshipped by the Villa faithful!
What happens next is anyone’s guess but you can be sure that with the dark forces of yin and Yeung hovering over the City there’s sure to be more to this storm than meets the eye…