When it was revealed that Alex McLeish was set to commit his long term future to Birmingham City it showed that the club’s hierarchy has complete faith in the Scotsman. This is a club that has fluctuated between the Premiership and Championship but with the great work McLeish has done Birmingham are now an established Premiership force.
McLeish may have had questions coming his way from all angles if Birmingham had struggled this season because the yo-yo trend of getting promoted and relegated would have put his credentials in to query. However, the team sits in eighth position and has reached the 40 points mark with 11 games to play. They are also in the quarter-finals of the FA Cup. Having done this with a squad that cost £10m to assemble is testimony to the way McLeish’s team have played and formed a good team spirit.
It seems that because Birmingham have tasted top-flight football only recently then the pressure was on for McLeish to really make sure they got promoted last season. The size of the city, along with the other Premiership clubs based in the Midlands, made it paramount that The Blues were regularly participating in these inter-city rivalries. The passion and excitement around Birmingham must be worth witnessing when they play Aston Villa. Having got Birmingham the chance to have these matches again, it remained to be seen whether the club would experience what they had in previous Premiership campaigns- a battle to avoid relegation. Having negated that threat and have the opportunity to push for a Europa League place shows the remarkable turn around in the last few seasons at St. Andrews.
For those doubting McLeish’s managerial skills you only have to look at the type of players he has brought to the club. It seems that a lot of them were past there sell-by dates and therefore could not handle the competitive nature of the league. Man-management must be a crucial part of McLeish’s success because he has seen the likes of Kevin Phillips, Stephen Carr, Barry Ferguson and Lee Bowyer thrive under his guidance. These were all players with question marks next to them for various reasons but they have been influential to the others around them and quite possibly the younger players as well. The trust McLeish seems to have from his board is beginning to be shown with the summer signing that is Christian Benitez, and he has fitted in perfectly.
While Birmingham may not be playing the most eye-catching football in the league, McLeish still deserves recognition for one of the top managers this season. He has done it by setting the results as his no.1 priority, and those with a keen eye on tactics will notice that this is a under-rated strong point in the way he sets The Blues up to play against. They may concede a lot of space and not see much of the ball, but their organisation and shape comes from players who understand their roles. The manager must have dedicated to this relentlessly because it is this way of playing that has seen them climb the table. Drawing with Manchester United at home and getting very close to a famous victory at Liverpool, only for the match to finish as a draw, would have been unlikely in Birmingham’s previous Premiership spells.
From all that has happened with McLeish and expectations with Birmingham in the last few years, this is the first time that there has been a consolidation about them. A mid-table finish would be seen as something to build on, should they not qualify for the Europa League, and you can be sure that with the optimism around St. Andrews then McLeish is the man to build on this season’s success story.
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