Alex McLeish enjoying new lease of life with Racing Genk

'There's a freshness to it and I must say I'm invigorated by it. I feel revitalised'

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The Independent Football

The telephone code is foreign and the voice on the other end is recognisably that of a Scottish manager, but it was not David Moyes on the line from Spain today, it was Alex McLeish in Belgium. Three months before Moyes joined Real Sociedad, McLeish became manager of Racing Genk.

“I just wanted a change,” McLeish says, “and this was a chance to do something  different, to hopefully flourish in another culture. There’s a freshness to it and I must say I’m invigorated by it. I feel revitalised.”

McLeish says he spoke to Steve McClaren about his time at FC Twente in the Netherlands before making the leap.

Belgium’s Jupiler League resumes this weekend with Genk seventh, though they could be third if they win their game in hand. McLeish arrived after four games of the season – one defeat and three draws – and might have been talking about his 40-day stint at Nottingham Forest when he said: “When I first came there was a lot of negativity. Every question I was asked was either about players fighting or the fractious relationship between the board and the fans.”

McLeish, 55, had been out of work since Forest, whom he left by mutual consent in February 2013.

Before that there was a difficult season at Aston Villa, one marked by protests over the fact that McLeish had come from rivals Birmingham City. He had left the Blues after the 2010-11 season which saw the club win the League Cup but also get relegated from the Premier League. The previous season, Birmingham had finished ninth.

“I was pretty drained after that Villa year,” he says. “I had to get the enjoyment back.”

It is returning at Genk. Depending on progress, he has an initial two-year agreement and he is impressed with the club’s approach, its academy and the coaching. “I like the way it works, the academy teaches the boys to cherish the ball, even the centre-halves. The coaches are good.

“After the first half of the season, I think a good achievement would be to get into the top six but I’m not saying that’s all we want. There are about seven clubs behind leaders Bruges and Anderlecht.

“We can still make Europe via the play-offs,” he adds.

The reality is that Genk are a selling club in a selling league. Thibaut Courtois, Kevin de Bruyne and Christian Benteke have all been and gone from Genk recently. Another loss is 20-year-old midfielder Dennis Praet, who joined Anderlecht and who has been linked with Arsenal.

Because of the selling of players, McLeish says “it was almost a rebuilding job here when I came.”

Genk’s rebuilding has begun but as with Moyes in San Sebastian there is a personal element, too. The Glaswegian influence on the Premier League is not what it was when Ferguson, Dalglish, Moyes, Lambert, Coyle, Kean and McLeish held court four years ago. But there is life beyond it.

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