Undaunted McLeish ready to embrace another tough challenge
It was perhaps unfortunate that Alex McLeish should have twice used the phrase – “If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it” – on the occasion of his first press conference as manager of Nottingham Forest.
That, of course, is exactly what many Forest supporters feel the club has done in sacking Sean O’Driscoll a matter of hours after the 4-2 St Stephen’s Day win over Leeds United that left the team in eighth place in the Championship, just one point off the play-off positions.
They feel this all the more because they believe McLeish, who acquired a reputation for what might be described as an over-cautious approach during his spells as manager at Birmingham City and Aston Villa, to be a less than inspirational replacement.
“I think they may be confusing ‘negative’ with ‘organised’, and I’m not making any apologies for that,” was the 53-year-old Scot’s dry response.
“When we go back to my time at Rangers [2001-06] we were one of the best footballing teams to have played at Ibrox in a long time. I inherited some good players like Ronald De Boer and Claudio Caniggia and we got these guys to express themselves at high tempo. We ended up winning seven trophies and played some tremendous football.”
Not that Forest’s owners, Fawaz al-Hasawi and Abdulaziz al-Hasawi – both of whom are currently in Kuwait – have told him they wanted him to get the Reds playing like Barcelona, he said.
“Equally they have not said: ‘Don’t play a long ball game.’ There is more than one way to win football matches and long balls can be effective as well.
“We’ll only ask the players to play the way they see the game. Guys like [midfielder] Andy Reid, I can’t tell him to ping the ball. There’s no team I’ve asked not to pass the ball. And I’m not saying there weren’t any good passers at Villa.”
Time in charge
Having described his time in charge at Villa, when he oversaw nine wins in 42 league games, as “a catalogue of horrors”, McLeish suggested the Premier League club’s continued struggles this season may serve to put his time in charge into context.
“I think it should allow people to understand it’s not easy to turn it around overnight with a few changes. There were too many draws, 17 I think in the league, and but for that we’d have been much further up the table. But in saying that the glove just didn’t fit.”
He said he had felt physically drained by the time he was sacked by Villa last May, after the club finished 16th in the Premier League, two points clear of relegation. “It is not an overnight job at Villa, it was and is a work in progress.”
Hence, he said, his deciding to turn down an indirect approach by Forest last summer. “I was sounded out by an agent and I said no, I was going to take a break. And I seriously had to do that. Though maybe there were five or six people that agent phoned.” That he should be offered the position again six months later with Forest in a position of relative strength was an opportunity he could not turn down, McLeish agreed.
“If we can get to the Premier League with Forest it will be another big achievement in a career that I’ve had full of trophies and medals as a player, and some trophies at a managerial level as well. I have to make the most of it.”