Alex McLeish defends style of play on first day at Nottingham Forest
"I had a text this morning from Mick McCarthy," Alex McLeish said as he introduced himself to the media as the fifth Nottingham Forest manager in four years. "It said 'welcome back to the asylum'."
No one knows more than McLeish, the former Rangers, Scotland, Birmingham and Aston Villa manager, that to survive in his trade takes not only a thick skin but an acceptance that the rules of other walks of life do not necessarily apply to football. Effectively hounded out of Villa in May by fans who never accepted him, McLeish takes over from a manager sacked after a 4-2 win with his team a point outside the play-off places.
He insists he did not regret the Villa experience, even though it left him so drained he turned down an approach from Forest last summer to take a break. "It was a difficult job at Villa," he said. "But it was one that I met head on and it was great to get over the line [avoiding relegation]."
McLeish, who succeeds Sean O'Driscoll following the latter's surprise dismissal after the Boxing Day win over Leeds, is already facing some hostility at Forest, where supporters are wary of McLeish's recent reputation for dour, defensive football.
But the 53-year-old Glaswegian dismissed the notion that his style is inherently negative. "At Rangers we had one of the best footballing teams to play at Ibrox in a long time. I inherited some good players like Ronald de Boer and Claudio Caniggia and we got these guys to express themselves at high tempo. We ended up winning seven trophies. But if it is easy to turn a player into a passer, Arsène Wenger would not release a single player. It's how to manage resources when you don't have the top passers in your team. You have to play to your strengths. I'm not saying there were no good passers at Villa but if you're [in] relegation battles, it's difficult. But Hibs and Rangers were excellent footballing teams and this team can pass the ball as well."
McLeish's trials at Villa overshadow what he achieved at Birmingham, who were relegated twice under his charge but were promoted in 2009, finished ninth in the top flight in 2010 – their highest for more than 50 years – and won the League Cup in 2011.
He feels Forest offers the chance to rebuild his reputation. "If we can get to the Premier League it will be another big achievement in my career," he said. "I can't emphasise enough how great an opportunity this is. I have to make the most of it."
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