OK, yesterday and today on twitter had very heated debates on Alex Mcleish. Neil Norton a Blues mate, wrote this after seeing the comments.
Now remember this is from a fan who saw most games over this period and from my point of view and Blues fans I know reflects accurately their view. Yes this is hardly positive and I know some will say that Mcleish has better players at Villa but do managers change style ?
I am a bluenose through and through, and this is the verdict of Judas Alex McLeish from a Blue point of view.
McLeish took over in December 2007, after Steve Bruce’s six year reign at the club which saw Blues promoted to the top flight for the first time since 1986, and saw them spend four seasons in the Premier League.
His reign started off on a high with a 3-2 win over high flying at Spurs at White Heart Lane. This was heralded as a new beginning, but this was a start of a three and a half year reign which all seemed to good to be true.
McLeish’s first signing was David Murphy from Hibernain. A solid defender who has been a key player for Blues since, despite competition for his left back position. This was the followed by James McFadden, Scotland international who had his career at Birmingham plagued by injury.
The signing of McFadden can be compared with the acquisition of Alan Hutton and Jermaine Jenas; both injury prone and in the case of Hutton a part of the Scotland set-up in which McLeish would have had first rate knowledge of his skills.
McFadden was not the only “crock” to be signed for Birmingham in McLeish’s reign, as worse was to come.
Marcus Bent, infamous journeyman and someone with a poorer score rate than Emile Heskey. An abortive loan signing in the name of Carlos Costly, who was nothing but Costly. Along came forgettable and obviously rubbish signings in Giovanni Espinoza, Gregory Vignal and Michel = all with a very poor track record and a bunch of “never have-beens”. Hyped loanees in Obafemi Martins, Christian Benitez, Matt Derbyshire David Bentley and Alexander Hleb, all with quite positive track records in the Premiership and in Europe, but all stifled due to McLeish’s very defensive 4-5-1 tactic which we will soon touch later on in this blog entry………
Despite the gloom, we’ve made a superstar out of Joe Hart who is now the England number one and one very sought after keeper. Positives also include Roger Johnson, Scott Dann, Ben Foster, Kevin Phillips and Craig Gardener which were all the nucleus of the Blues team since our return to the Premiership in 2009.
McLeish has an eye for keepers, in which the signing of Shay Given is beneficial to the Villians, but his record on the transfer market was very hit and miss.
McLeish has a very defensive approach to his game. He is not a fan of free-flowing attacking football and will insist on one of the worst formations in football known to mankind; the dreaded 4-5-1.
McLeish would play strikers out of position such as Phillips, Zigic, Benitez and Jerome by putting them on the left or right wing which in the case of the above stifled the players performance and with the likes of Phillips and Zigic who were known for the goalscoring, a lack of goals.
In an interview given to the Press Association for local newspaper the Birmingham Mail, McLeish defended this tactic by quoting:
“Alex McLeish has defended Blues’ use of a 4-5-1 formation in many of their games, insisting playing two strikers risks “destroying” his players’ confidence”
He later said:
“You go and watch England do badly at the World Cup playing 4-4-2.
“You watch the Champions League, the winners played with one striker.
“People want me to play with two when I don’t think that we’re ready for playing with two.”
Whilst Blues and Villa are not on par with the likes of Inter Milan, Barcelona et al, this sums up McLeish’s delusion and lack of risk taking into trying attacking football.
4-5-1 bought across low scoring games; Birmingham had scored ONE hatrick under his reign; Mikael Forssell scored 3 against Spurs in March 2008 in a 4-1 win at St Andrews. This was also one of our highest scoring games. If a win was to be achieved, it was always a smash and grab 1-0 or 2-1 win. No creativity just very safe, defensive football kept in a uniform fashion.
Draws became the norm, and games against bigger teams would vary from being draws to narrow defeats or in the case of the Liverpool game in April 2011, a 5-0 thumping.
McLeish would have his favourites each game; the team selection would be very static with the odd chop and change. Birmingham had a unchanged side for much of the 2009-10 season. Granted this bought an unbeaten run for the team, but once the bubble burst, he was adamant to make changes. One annoyance, was Cameron Jerome who is not a seasoned goalscorer, starting each game and playing up front alone. This delivered a return of around 26 goals in around 125 league games. A very poor return.
Subsitutions would occur to late in the game; this was an annoyance when losing key games or holding on to a narrow 1-0 lead. The wrong players would be taken off and often placed with strikers played out of position or the weaker option being used. One example of this was the final game of the 2010-11 season against Tottenham which relegated Blues to the Championship in where Seb Larsson a midfielder was replaced by a very out of form, and underplayed Matt Derbyshire a striker. This had taken place at a point where the game had looked anything but totally lost.
McLeish is a tactically inept manager. His brand of safe football can prove very costly and will definitely hinder goalscorers. So far, Darren Bent has not scored this season.
McLeish relegated Birmingham City twice in 2008 and 2011. The 2008 relegation, was due to McLeish inheriting a very weak team that had been affected by the change over of management at the midway point. On top of that, Fulham’s end of season renaissance and Blues throwing away key games at Wigan, Derby and Aston Villa (which was a 5-1 drubbing!) led to us finishing 19th out of 20 below no-hopers Derby.
The promotion season of 2008-09 led to Blues not falling outside the top 3 of the Championship, but again due to his lack of tactical knowledge key games against Wolverhampton Wanderers and Preston led to Blues needing to win their last game of the season against 3rd place Reading. Blues won 2-0 in a very tightly fought game and booked their ticket into the Premiership season. Another problem was a lack of goals; Blues scored 54 goals which was one of the lowest tallies in the whole division. To make matters worse, Norwich City who finished 22nd and were relegated scored 57.
The first full McLeish season in the Premiership gave Blues an unbeaten run of twelve games, and a good cup run in the FA Cup making the quarter finals losing to runners-up Portsmouth. 9th place in the Premiership was achieved; Birmingham’s highest ever position in over 50 years. However, again there were a lack of goals. Jerome was leading scorer with 11, followed by midfielder Lee Bowyer with 5. Blues were amongst the lowest scores in the league with 39 goals. It did also seem that after the unbeaten run, Blues had given up the ghost with key games drew and lost and very questionable substitutions and tactical decisions.
2010-11 led to Blues winning their first piece of silverware since 1963; a famous win in the Carling Cup against Arsenal winning 2-1 at Wembley with Obafemi Martins getting the winning goal. This was the only positive in the whole season. In the league, the cracks were showing. McLeish’s reign was frustrating fans and even players alike. The goals were drying up, players were consistently being played out of position and Jerome was always guaranteed a first team slot. After the cup win, McLeish had given up the ghost. He could not seem bothered, and threw away key games against Wolverhampton, Wigan, Newcastle and Fulham which if at least two of these had been won, Blues would have stayed up. It was a very bitter-sweet season and the negative football was producing very negative results.
The start may be encouraging and positive, but McLeish is NOT a manager for the English leagues. He has no clue of tactics and Villa have shown that they go into each game hoping for a draw each time.
Football will be very uniform and tepid; games are low scoring and seasoned goalscorers will be stifled as shown with Darren Bent; a player of a high quality who can score 20 goals a season that has picked up a grand tally of nul so far.
Granted, McLeish did win us a cup and got us 9th in the Premier League, but it is not all plain sailing.
Football can be very frustrating and my warning to Villa supporters is, do not be fooled.
My personal verdict is, expect a very frustrating season on the pitch and in the transfer market, expect a lot of has-beens, never have-beens and crocks to be signed. Jenas and Hutton are examples of those categories. McLeish is nothing more than an SPL manager. He has NEVER proved himself outside of the SPL. If he was that good, Blues would have won an FA Cup and got two to three top tens in the Prem.
It’s going to be a long ride, and once the bigger teams come along – expect the worst.