Alex McLeish has been in football management for 17 years so he’s no stranger to a challenge. Having started at Motherwell he pulled off a surprise by guiding them to second in the SPL behind Rangers in 1994. Having over achieved that season the next two seasons Big Eck faced two scrappy relegation battles. Having seen his Motherwell side make very little progress he resigned in 1998 and became manager of Hibernian. A surprising move some might say as they too were struggling in the league and were relegated.
No worries for McLeish as he guided the Edinburgh club straight back to the SPL at the first attempt winning the First Division. Having struggled in the SPL before McLeish’s arrival not much was expected of Hibs however they took the critiscism on the chin and used it to their advantage. They consolidated their position and finished mid table whilst also reaching the Scottish Cup semi-final; losing to Hearts 4-0. Hibs only got better under McLeish especially in the 2000-01 season when they made an extremely strong start, but eventually settled for third. In the same season they also made a Scottish Cup final appearance where they were beaten 3-0 by Celtic. McLeish’s work was not overlooked and Rangers jumped at the chance to make him their new manager in 2001.
Outgoing manager at the time Dick Advoocat recommended McLeish to the board of directors. McLeish could only build on his success and he did……instantly. Rangers won the Scottish Cup and the Scottish League Cup. His first season of success was overshadowed by his second Gers season where he won the domestic treble. At this point McLeish was viewed as one of the hottest managers in the game. Success doesn’t last forever and Rangers financial state cost McLeish dear in 2003. Many of his prize assets were sold and subsequently Celtic won the league comfortably. Also, Rangers failed to pick up a single trophy that season.
Big Eck came under increasing pressure from fans and a seven game consecutive loss record to Celtic seemed to rile fans. In the 2004-05 season McLeish realsied new faces were essential and high profile signings Jean-Alain Boumsong and Dado Prso gave fans renewed hope. The title seemed unlikely after the Gers fell seven points behind Celtic, however McLeish turned it around once again and won the domestic title on a dramatic last day. After another up and down season McLeish stepped down from the managerial position at Ibrox in 2006.
He was succeeded by Paul Le Guen the former Olympic Lyonnais manager. After stepping down from the managerial position at Rangers McLeish openly announced that he would not manage another Scottish club after he felt he had achieved all he wanted to in the Scottish game. Having been linked with various jobs in England McLeish eventually made his decision……he would manage the Scottish national team.
A brief spell as Scotland’s manager was ahead for McLeish who was only given eight games before resigned. While still in the position of Scotland’s manager Birmingham City approached the SFA to seek permission to speak to McLeish about their job. They were refused permission. On his return from the World Cup 2010 qualification draw McLeish decided to resign following the Birmingham approach. The Blues made their move quick and McLeish was announced as the club’s new manager the following day.
In his first season in charge McLeish made decent signings including Marimo Zarate and James McFadden but it wasn’t enough to stop the club from relegation. The 2008-09 season saw Birmingham regain their top flight status at the first attempt after beating Reading 2-1 on the final day. By January 2010 McLeish had welded a team together that seemed unstoppable after they went on a 12 game consecutive unbeaten run. He led Birmingham to their record 9th highest finish.
Having had so much success in the previous season McLeish signed a new deal at St Andrews and the board weren’t regretting their decision as he led the team to Wembley in the Carling Cup final. They were going to play Arsenal who were desperate for a trophy and a 93rd minute winner from loanee Obefemi Martins won it for McLeish after the game was at 1-1. Their success in the Carling Cup only hindered Birmingham as they went on a torrid run after the victory. They were dragged into the relegation battle and McLeish couldn’t save the Blues on the final day at White Hart Lane where they lost 2-1. Fans openly came out and backed McLeish to send them straight back up but McLeish had other ideas.
He quit the club on 12th June 2011 by email. Five days later McLeish made the bold move of jumping ship to Aston Villa much to the annoyance of both Birmingham and Aston Villa fans. Villa fans protested outside their Bodymoor Heath training ground with anti-McLeish chants and graffiti. Currently in Hong Kong McLeish has guided his new side to the Asia Cup final where they will play Chelsea on Saturday. Can McLeish take Villa back into the good times?