McLeish aims to stay frugal after signing £3m Michel

Birmingham manager says he will not bankrupt club as first January signing arrives
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The Independent Football

Alex McLeish made inroads into Birmingham City's £40m January transfer kitty last night when he agreed a deal for the Sporting Gijon midfielder Michel – but the modest outlay of £3m is in keeping with his pledge not to bankrupt the club by reckless use of the funds provided by new owner Carson Yeung.

The Birmingham manager, who became accustomed to frugal housekeeping in previous posts with Hibernian, Motherwell and even Rangers, had been forced to abandon an attempt to make Michel his first capture during the summer. However, he continued to have the player watched and Michel will fly in from Spain today to become McLeish's first capture since Yeung bought control from David Sullivan and David Gold in October.

McLeish, who wants cover and competition for the engine-room axis of Barry Ferguson and Lee Bowyer, cautioned that the formalities of the deal for the 6ft-tall Michel are unlikely to be completed in time for him to face Manchester United at St Andrew's tomorrow. The 24-year-old, who has captained Gijon in La Liga this season, is ineligible to play in Tuesday's FA Cup replay with Nottingham Forest.

The Scot has also enquired about strikers Kenwyne Jones, of Sunderland, and Ryan Babel, of Liverpool, who are thought to be available for £11m and £10.5m respectively. But a call to Celtic about Aiden McGeady, the Republic of Ireland winger, provoked a rebuff. "We made an enquiry but we were told he is not for sale," said McLeish. "The situation won't change until someone says he is up for sale."

McLeish's attitude to his new-found purchasing power will be informed by an awareness of the damage exorbitant fees and wages inflicted on Leeds United during the Peter Ridsdale-David O'Leary era, and the crisis currently besetting Portsmouth.

"It's my duty to be responsible for what happens next at this club," the former Scotland manager said. "That's why I'm loath to triple wages and bring in £10m to 15m players, because it might be too big a step too soon."

McLeish added: "The fans have to trust me. I want to do it for the good of Birmingham. I want this club to be around in the next hundred years. I don't want it to be a case in the next few years of the media writing about Birmingham's financial troubles, about us needing to have a fire sale because there are too many players on too-high wages and players we can't get rid of because we've paid too much for them."

Birmingham , who host Manchester United and McLeish's former manager at Aberdeen, Sir Alex Ferguson, tomorrow, are unbeaten in 11 Premier League games. While keen to exploit his new purchasing power, McLeish is also aware of the potential pitfalls of introducing expensive new players. "I know the players would appreciate some help, some back-up," he said. "And I know one or two players they would accept in the dressing room. But I want to maintain the spirit.

"It's a strong dressing room. There's big-time experience in there that wouldn't let prima donnas or Billy Big-Times have too much influence or take over. They've worked very hard to create that spirit, along with a good staff, and everyone's singing off the same hymn sheet. We have fantastic camaraderie around the place."

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