THE HALF DECENT FOOTBALL MAGAZINE

18 June ~ You know when you witness someone fall over, potentially injuring themselves severely but doing it in such a way that you have to stifle laughter with a swift balled fist to the mouth? Right now the UK footballing fraternity are generating raw red teethmarks on their knuckles from the force of their collective giggling at Aston Villa. This is nothing new for the club. For decades Villa have been making odd, seemingly self-destructive decisions.

We've sold our best players, hired average and health-stricken managers and named a stand after a terminally unpopular chairman. But even the appointment of Alex McLeish – a focus of ridicule for Villa fans since he deftly guided Birmingham City to relegation for the second time – takes the Claret and Blue biscuit. 

It really does seem like a bad joke. Appoint the manager who just weeks ago was something of a folk hero for his chronic inability to keep Villa's deadly rivals in the Premier League. Add the fact that chairman Randy Lerner snubbed Schteve McClaren, due to unpopularity in the stands, only to hire Big Eck, and you have the recipe for a face palming farce comedy that would go down a storm in the West End if someone could only fictionalise such an inane situation.

Naturally the reaction from the terraces has ranged from paralysing fury to a detached bemusement familiar to long-term Villa fans who have only a passing acquaintance with hope and optimism. The reasons for not signing McLeish are almost too numerous to mention. He used to manage close rivals, we may be forced to pay up to £5 million in compensation, his Premier League track record involves two relegations, his departure from Birmingham shows him to be a potentially disloyal and opportunistic manager, his teams appear to play bogging football – but what of the positives? Well, let's give it a try.

Last season McLeish managed something no Villa team since Brian Little's 1995 5-3-2 flyers have done. He won some silverware. As Martin O'Neill can testify, it's not such an easy thing to do. Moreover, last season Birmingham were hit by a series of debilitating injuries to some of their best players. His track record at Rangers is impressive – seven trophies in five seasons – and his time as Scotland boss showed him to be a manager who can, given the right situation, get the job done.

But each of those successes have more than a sniff of suspicion about them. Winning trophies with Rangers or Celtic is like getting a congratulatory pat on the back for remembering to breathe – if you don't manage it, there's something wrong. And O'Neill had a similar record having already built his reputation in the Premier League, where he managed to win silverware and easily avoid relegation with an underfunded but well-organised Leicester City side. Meanwhile McLeish cut short his time at Scotland when he received a better offer – an action he seemingly repeated last week.

Worst of all, worse than all this, is that Lerner – a popular, canny and positive presence around Villa Park – may have shredded his reputation with the fans. Since taking over he's made consistent noise about Villa becoming genuine challengers for Champions League places and backed his talk with serious cash. But since O'Neill walked, many Villa fans have suspected the club of reining in expectations. Recently a succession of managers – including Rafa Benítez and Roberto Martínez – turned down the role, with rumours circulating about Lerner's willingness to continue his financial backing in the transfer market. And now the baffling appointment of McLeish likely confirms the worst fears of Villa fans – we're a club returning to the pre-Lerner days, when we had very little ambition and middling financial means. Ciaran McCauley

Comments (11)
Comment by t.j.vickerman 2011-06-18 11:11:00

It does seem a very odd choice. Easy to say in hindsight but it would be interesting to see what they achieved by retaining Martin O'Neill and giving him the funds they spent on Makoun and Bent...

Comment by Dalef65 2011-06-18 14:06:23

Cant believe Villa thought they were above appointing Steve McLaren.
A decision they may live to regret me thinks....


Collectively now,the English footballing establishment has got to get over this obsession with one night in the rain at Wembley....
It was nearly 4 years ago for Gods sake.....

Comment by Paul Rowland 2011-06-18 16:40:27

One thing I can't get my head round: why is it Villa who are expected to pay compensation to Birmingham? Surely it should be McLeish who forks out the five million sovs, not Villa. Here's my thinking: Alex McLeish resigned as manager of Birmingham City - ie he advised Birmingham that he did not intend to fulfil his contractual obligations to them. He did this off his own back. McLeish effectively terminated the contract, therefore McLeish should pay the compensation. END OF.

Same goes for anyone else who thinks they're too good for the club they signed a lucrative and legally bidding contract with. Managers, players, whatever. You want out? Fine - then pay up first. Thank you and goodbye. No hard feelings, and you are now free to go and get yourself another job.

Comment by Tony C 2011-06-18 17:42:44

Agreed, Paul.

Surely, too, if Villa even considered paying any compensation in this instance it would be tantamount to an admission of guilt in 'tapping up' McLeish in the first place - something they have so far vehemently denied.

Comment by 1974ddr 2011-06-18 18:02:44

Excellent article, which sums up both McLeish's moderate career successes to date and the damage done to Lerner's 'approval ratings' pretty well in my view.

I agree with Paul Rowland's suggestion that the compensation in these cases should come from the person who broke the contract. But in the football world that's just the way it is, as Bruce Hornsby so aptly observed. Same applies to clubs paying a player's agent for representing the player in transfer / contract negotiations. Logic doesn't seem to enter into it.

Of course the big question in this case is to what extent 'Eck' acted 'off his own back' in resigning from Birmingham, and to what extent if any he was encouraged to do so by Villa, who certainly seemed to swoop with indecent haste once he became a 'free agent'.

Comment by Janik 2011-06-18 18:04:57

Paul, I thought FIFA had brought in a rule that players could pay up their contract and move if they wished. Thing is, even with the wages paid at the top level transfer fees are still higher than remaining salaries, so it hasn't been in a clubs interest to back a player who is after a move into using this. The club, fundamentally, doesn't care who the money comes from as long as it is maximised.

Comment by jertzeeAFCW 2011-06-18 22:54:31

Even if the manager did pay off the rest of his contract it would be the same as if a team wanted a player...the club getting the player or manager would just recompense the incoming player/manager for buying out their contract.........

Hardly difficult to break the rules, seeing the organisations in charge of policing the game are corrupt.

Comment by Charco G 2011-06-21 12:35:03

"The reasons for not signing McLeish are almost too numerous to mention"

Not least because well, money's too tight to mention.

Comment by bluearmyfaction 2011-06-21 14:01:59

"One thing I can't get my head round: why is it Villa who are expected to pay compensation to Birmingham?"

For inducement to breach a contract. In legal terms, that's a tort for which they could be sued.

Obviously Blues would have to prove Villa tapped up McLeish to do that, but if they did there would be a trail of evidence that would have to be disclosed. Internal emails about the appointment, Lerner’s private jet flight plans and so on. Very difficult to hide if it were to go to court, as Peter Pannu, an ex-barrister, knows all too well. One wonders whether Pannu’s outsider status means he feels he has less to risk in going against the self-protective football establishment, especially given that he took on, and beat, the Triads.

Add to that Krulak’s internet posting suggesting that getting a manager is time-consuming and tricky. Difficult for Villa to say they managed to do everything Krulak said they needed to do in the 2 days between McLeish resigning and Villa formally speaking to him; it must be remembered that Krulak has been less than complimentary about Blues in the past, so unlike Villa’s treatment of Fulham and Wigan, where they were showing themselves to be cleaner than clean, it’s eminently possible that he’d be happy to screw Blues over. After all, £200m has bought them mid-table obscurity. £20m has bought us a cup…

Comment by Paul Rowland 2011-06-21 16:08:30

I believe you are right, BAF. Inducement to breach a contract is indeed a tortious act. HOWEVER, in my opinion, Birmingham would be mad to pursue that course of action, as their right to financial compensation would probably be minimal, and certainly nothing like five mill.

Compensation would be limited to directly attributable financial loss as a result of Villa's part in McLeish's departure. Have Birmingham actually suffered any financial loss as a consequence of McLeish's departure? I doubt it. I suspect they will actually be a lot better off without him. And even if there is any financial loss, can Birmingham establish that the financial loss was caused directly by Villa's tortious interference?

Best of luck with that one BAF. Hope you have better luck than Simon Jordan did when he threatened to sue Charlton Athletic after Iain Dowie swapped sides back in 2005. Very similar scenario to this one. Significantly, Jordan ended up suing Dowie for breach of contract, not Charlton for tortious interference.

Comment by bluearmyfaction 2011-06-22 19:23:34

Yes, the difficulty is in proving it. It would be easier had he been poached with 1 game to go and 1 point needed for promotion...but Pannu might be the sort of bloke who would sue for the principle (and token damages) - and Villa would be forced to go through disclosure if he did. Embarrassing at the very least...

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