Gabriel Agbonlahor, an Aston Villa supporter long before he became a first-team striker at the club, last night welcomed the arrival of Alex McLeish and anticipated a more attacking style than the Scot was known for at Birmingham City.
The Birmingham-born Agbonlahor graduated to the England squad during Martin O'Neill's four-year reign but due to injury and loss of form he become a peripheral figure under Gérard Houllier, often operating as a winger or coming off the substitutes bench. Reacting to the controversy over McLeish's resignation at St Andrew's and subsequent appointment at Villa Park, the 24-year-old sought to allay fears among sections of the Villa support over the former Scotland manager's approach.
"At Birmingham his team had to play a certain way, and some Villa fans seem to be worried about that kind of style because it's not Villa's way," said Agbonlahor, who has been a prolific scorer in derbies against McLeish's former team and is the club's longest-serving player. "But with the talented group of attacking players he'll have at his disposal here, it will be a lot different. I'm sure that's one reason why he's taking this challenge."
Agbonlahor, who dropped behind £24m signing Darren Bent in the forwards' pecking order during Houllier's eight months at the club, said he looked upon the change at the top as "a new start" which would bring the best out of the players at the club. "He will have a really good group of players to work with here, a strong squad. I see exciting times ahead, I really do.
"To those Villa fans who don't seem to be happy with his appointment, my message is simply to give him a chance and see what he can do. He'll do well here. He'll do a good job for the club. he is a good manager. Look at his record as manager of Rangers and Scotland, he's always done well."
Simply by taking the job, in the face of hostility from Birmingham supporters and the demonstrations against him by several hundred Villa fans after news broke earlier in the week of Randy Lerner's meeting with McLeish, the Glaswegian had shown his strength of character, argued Agbonlahor. "For him to take on this challenge shows he has the belief that he can do a job here at Villa. It's a move that only a man with a lot of courage and self-belief would make and people have to respect that."
McLeish faces a tough introduction, with Ashley Young expected to join Manchester United and Stewart Downing coveted by Premier League rivals, but Agbonlahor called for unity. "The chairman has made his decision now and it's up to everyone associated with Aston Villa Football Club to just get on with it. We've got a tough game to start the season with against Fulham away and everyone at the club needs to give the manager their full backing. I have no doubt that once they give him a chance they'll see he can do a good job as Villa manager."