Belfast Telegraph

Aston Villa fans fear arrival of Alex McLeish

By Sam Wallace

Alex McLeish resigned as Birmingham City manager yesterday, prompting suggestions he could be in line to take the vacant manager's job at city rivals Aston Villa.

McLeish's resignation came on an eventful day for managers in the top two divisions in England with Steve McClaren accepting the Nottingham Forest job and Malky Mackay moving from Watford to the vacant Cardiff City job. Last night there was no official indication from Villa or McLeish's agent that McLeish (52), has been offered the job at Villa Park.

There was little doubt in football circles that McLeish had another job in mind given 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 under the terms of his contract that had two years 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 and Hove Albion last season.

Former Barcelona manager Frank Rijkaard, currently out of work, is another option.

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 boss. 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 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 a cautious backing from the club's board which made 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 major 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 Gerard Houllier agreed he would have to step down for health reasons.

Having shown interest in Mark Hughes they rejected the opportunity to give him the job once he quit Fulham. They rejected McClaren because of fears about the supporters' reaction to appointing a manager who attracted such criticism when he was in charge of the England team.

Following those two decisions, a move for McLeish does not look at first glance like the obvious step for a risk-averse board.

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