Club Focus – Birmingham – McLeish commits his future as Blues looks to kick on

With the furore of the Midlands derby slowly ebbing away, focus is now turning towards the upcoming summer and consequential season. The Birmingham City board and fans will know that the extension of Alex McLeish’s contract is of vital importance. Before McLeish arrived, Birmingham were nothing more than a yoyo club. Now, with McLeish at the helm, Birmingham appear set to sustain their status as a Premier League club – not just dawdling in the bottom half but able to kick on year on year.

While losing to Aston Villa was undeniably a low point of the season, the campaign on the whole has been one with many high points and overall a massive success. McLeish has been the catalyst for such a brilliant season but prior to Thursday’s reports that McLeish is happy to stay, there were understandable worries that the manager may move on to pastures new. Indeed, the Scotsman’s ability as a manager would warrant a move to a bigger club, but his recent admission that he is more than content at St.Andrew’s shows a commitment to the cause. It is easy to see why McLeish is so willing to commit to the club – Birmingham are an exciting prospect that can and are prospering under a new board headed by Carson Yeung.

In a press conference on Thursday morning, McLeish said, regarding his contract: “Yes, [I want to be here] for the foreseeable future.” So, it appears Birmingham will be led into next season by the Scottish gaffer. If they can improve at the seasonal rate that has already been witnessed under McLeish’s tenure, then next season should herald a powerful and competitive Birmingham. On his arrival, McLeish said that he had “always harboured a desire to manage in the Premier League.” His thirst to manage in the league was obvious and it all began well with a 3-2 victory of Tottenham Hotspur. Unfortunately, his arrival was too late to save Birmingham from relegation.

However, in that first season, McLeish signed James McFadden from Everton and his fellow Scot has been instrumental in Birmingham’s ascendency up the leagues. McFadden also brings a creative flair that is otherwise lacking – perhaps a few new faces with nimble movement and artful feet will be on the wish list. Other notably acquisitions, later on in his time with Birmingham, have included Roger Johnson, Joe Hart (on loan) and Barry Ferguson. All three have been magnificent and show that while McLeish’s nous in signing players is unquestionable, the players have played just as an important part in Birmingham’s good play. Unlike other teams this season, the manager and the players have appeared to bounce off each other in a positive way – the emotions shown against Villa on Sunday were all collective and consistent from the manager to the players. Whilst not commendable, such a show of collectiveness appears to portray a united Birmingham, something that was not as evident under previous regimes.

A quick return to the Premier League was secured in the 2008/09 season and Birmingham do not want to look back. They no longer look like a side that can’t compete in the Premier League. While debates have rumbled on as to whether some teams are just happy to be in the league, rather than excel in it, the same cannot be said for Birmingham. While fans should not ask McLeish to rush the project too quickly, McLeish appears to have the necessary ambition to push the club forward both in the league and in cups. Even though McLeish recently intimated that he will be working on a smaller than expected budget in the summer, there will not be too many worried fans.

It is patently obvious what the team needs. Several times throughout the second half of the season, McLeish himself has pinpointed that he needs flair and genuine quality, and will look to acquire the players. With his history of good, solid signings, it seems likely that Birmingham will address their problems. So, with Alex McLeish almost certain to renew his contract and with a game against struggling Burnley coming up, the final flickers of discontent about the manner in which Birmingham lost the Midlands derby may, hopefully, be put to bed.

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