McLeish excited by chance to succeed south of the border

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The Independent Online

Alex McLeish begins work with Birmingham City this morning after confessing that the lure of managing in the Premier League is now so great that even a club that has slipped perilously close to the relegation places amid a long-running takeover saga represents an opportunity too attractive to pass up.

The 48-year-old former Rangers manager, who resigned from his position in charge of the Scotland national team on Tuesday, succeeds Steve Bruce on a 2.8m three-and-a-half year contract at St Andrew's, driven by the desire to join the ranks of Scottish managers to achieve success south of the border and worried that if he turned down the offer it might be a decision he would later regret.

"It was very difficult to quit the Scotland job because I really enjoyed it," he said. "But I have a desire to prove myself outside my home country and I am aware that the opportunities are not always there and that you could wait forever for a chance.

"I'm extremely proud of the job I did with the national team but the allure of the Premiership and the challenge at Birmingham was something I really fancied."

Andy Watson and one-time Aston Villa coach Roy Aitken, who were McLeish's assistants on the Scotland bench, also move to St Andrew's, the trio having been convinced by chairman David Gold that the now seemingly floundering takeover bid by Hong Kong businessman Carson Yeung, of which Bruce was seen as a casualty, would not explode in their faces.

Gold said yesterday that he now no longer expects Yeung's 50m bid to go ahead and admitted he was so excited at the club's coup in landing McLeish that he "couldn't care less" if it collapses and was now "working under the assumption that the deal will not take place" in terms of making money available for the January transfer window.

"The silence from Hong Kong has been deafening lately and the takeover bid is now almost an irritation we would like cleared up," he added. "But we have told Alex that, in any case, even in the event of the takeover going ahead there will be continuity in the boardroom, with people like myself, Karren Brady and Mike Wiseman invited to stay on, and that is how we convinced him it will be OK.

"It is a leap of faith on his part but he has the opportunity to manage in the Premiership and I'm sure our fans will be as excited as we are. Everybody knows about Alex's record but it is having the right relationship between club and manager that is key and I knew from the first meeting that there would be that same rapport, just as there was with Steve Bruce."

Bruce, who took charge at Wigan Athletic on Monday, resigned after the rules on takeovers prevented the club extending his contract, rules that do not preclude the taking on of new staff.

Gold said he would not be surprised if McLeish became a target for a bigger Premier League club if he is successful but McLeish is not looking beyond the immediate aim of keeping Birmingham in the division.

"We have a good chance to be in the Premiership next season," he said. "We believe we have the skills to keep the guys up. That is what we will concentrate on first and foremost."

The chance to renew his Old Firm rivalry with Martin O'Neill added extra spice to the challenge, he said. "At the moment we have to concentrate on being better than the teams around us in the table but in the longer term the aim will be to match Martin's achievements with Villa and even better them."

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