McLeish linked with Villa as McClaren joins Forest

Birmingham manager walks out, while former England coach replaces sacked Davies

Click to follow
The Independent Football

Alex McLeish resigned as Birmingham City manager yesterday, and is now a candidate for the vacant manager's job at city rivals Aston Villa, who are interested in speaking to him.

McLeish's resignation came on an eventful day for managers in the top two divisions in England with Steve McClaren accepting the Nottingham Forest manager's job and Malky Mackay moving from Watford to the vacant Cardiff City job. There has been no official approach from Villa to McLeish, 52, but his surprise departure naturally gave rise to the suggestion he was aware of their interest.

There was little doubt in football circles that McLeish had another job in mind, given that he resigned via an email to chairman Peter Pannu from his holiday in Italy. By resigning he has forfeited the pay-off he would be entitled to under the terms of his contract that had two years left to run.

The Villa owner, Randy Lerner, and chief executive, Paul Faulkner, have also expressed an interest in the Uruguayan coach Gus Poyet, who won promotion to the Championship with Brighton & Hove Albion last season. The former Barcelona manager Frank Rijkaard, currently out of work, is another option open to them.

The club are eager that their next manager establishes an "identity" for Villa, the lack of one being something they perceive as a problem. Where McLeish fits into that plan is not clear. There was little sense last night that he would be welcomed by Villa supporters.

Despite the ferocious rivalry between the two Birmingham clubs, McLeish always enjoyed a cordial relationship with the Villa hierarchy and was close to Martin O'Neill during his time as Villa manager. The two men had also been on opposite sides when managing Rangers and Celtic in Scotland.

In his last contract negotiations with Birmingham – he signed a three year deal last September – McLeish was represented by Jorge Mendes, arguably the most powerful agent in football, who also represents Jose Mourinho and Cristiano Ronaldo. Since then, however, he has switched to British agent Robert Segal.

Having been relegated with Birmingham on the last day of the season – the second time he has been relegated from the Premier League since he took over in November 2007 – McLeish was given cautious backing by the club's board, who made it clear that the requirement this coming season was promotion.

McLeish won the Carling Cup last season, the club's first major trophy in 48 years, a notable achievement given their resources. That was overshadowed by subsequent relegation and McLeish's relations with the Birmingham board were strained. However, that would be nothing compared to the likely reaction from Birmingham supporters were he to take the job at Villa.

If it is McLeish who is to take over at Villa – and that was by no means certain last night – it would represent the end of a process that has, at times, looked painfully inept ever since Gérard Houllier agreed he would have to step down for health reasons.

Having shown interest in Mark Hughes, Villa rejected the opportunity to give him the position once he quit Fulham. They rejected McClaren because of fears about the supporters' reaction to appointing a manager who attracted such widespread criticism when he had his ill-fated spell in charge of the England team. Villa then pursued Roberto Martinez, but the Wigan manager opted on Thursday night to stay with Wigan.

Given the sensitivity that Villa's board – including Lerner – were said to have shown towards both the nature of Hughes' departure from Fulham and the stigma they perceived as being attached to McClaren, a move for McLeish does not look at first glance like the obvious step for a risk-averse board.

It's happened before

After resigning from Aston Villa in January 1982 because of a disagreement with the board over his contract, Ron Saunders surprisingly moved straight to arch-rivals Birmingham. He left the club in January 1986.