Sir Alex Ferguson last night pitched into the furore over Alex McLeish's imminent arrival as Aston Villa manager, urging Villa supporters to set aside their misgivings over his previous association with Birmingham City and get behind him.
Ferguson, who as Aberdeen manager oversaw McLeish's development into an outstanding defender for club and country, expressed confidence that his fellow Glaswegian would win over the doubters who have demonstrated against reports of his appointment as successor to Gérard Houllier. Hailing McLeish, who is expected to be announced as new Villa manager this morning with Birmingham reportedly receiving £2m compensation, as "conscientious" and "a good communicator", the Manchester United manager said: "I've known Alex since he was 18. He was always intelligent, always inquisitive and always asking questions. These to me are essential ingredients for being a successful manager."
Ferguson added: "As a player, he was always a leader on the pitch and always worked hard. In all his managerial positions, he has always had to work hard, too. His CV is good. He managed Rangers, he managed Scotland, he won trophies and he's achieved what he has as a manager on limited resources. He's done a phenomenal job. By the time Alex took over at Rangers they weren't spending the kind of money which they previously had, so he did a great job. In all his jobs he's had to deal with that kind of situation of making do with what you have and making the best of it, and that's a quality. Villa represent the same type of challenge."
The negativity surrounding the pursuit of McLeish by Villa's American owner, Randy Lerner, has startled many who were unaware of the depth of hostility between supporters of Villa and Birmingham, to whom the former emailed his resignation last Sunday. Ferguson insisted clubs had to stand above such parochialism. "If you look back 40 years ago, the emotions of supporters were far different. They're very emotional nowadays and they're more personal about their football club. You see many examples of that, particularly at Villa in the past few days. But as a club, you can't be swayed from the decisions you have to make. You want to listen to the supporters but you want to listen to the sensible ones and say, 'Look at the manager's CV and look at what he's achieved and, for just one minute, forget about the fact he was at Birmingham'.
"At the end of the day what will count is this: can he do the job for Villa? It doesn't matter whether there are five against him, 50 against him or 500 against him, because the experience and the ability he has got, believe me, he will prove he can do the job. And that's what it's all about.
"Once the fans are confronted by the reality that he's the manager, they will step back and say, 'Well, we've made our complaints and voiced our opinion, let's see what happens next and give the man his chance'. There are some good players at Villa and overall it's a really good set-up. It takes time to get a manager to get what you want out of your team and the Villa fans need to give Alex the time to do that, too."