Bad Management

Aston Villa and Birmingham City unquestionably have one of the fiercest rivalries in English football. So when a manager crosses from one club to the other in a matter of days, it is never going to go down too well. That’s exactly what Alex McLeish did in 2011 and given his reign at Aston Villa, which started just days after he resigned as Birmingham City manager ended, is being featured in a column dedicated to bad managerial reigns then there is no prize for guessing how he did at Aston Villa. Poorly is the simple answer. It’s also the complicated answer as well to be fair.

McLeish himself was a very successful footballer amassing 77 caps for Scotland and 692 playing for Alex Ferguson’s famous Aberdeen side. He won plenty of trophies as a manager in Scotland too, achieving silverware at Motherwell, Hibs and Rangers. He joined Birmingham in November 2007 and achieved promotion to the Premier League in his first full season in charge. Brum performed above all expectations upon their return to the top flight finishing 9th and in 2010/11 collected their first ever major trophy, the League Cup, despite their Premier League campaign ending in relegation. It seemed only natural McLeish would be rewarded with another Premier League job, however, Aston Villa was a terrible choice.

Almost immediately McLeish’ reign began with controversy as he was appointed on June 17th, 2011. Not only were the fans of both clubs livid but Birmingham City filed a complaint to the FA stating that McLeish was still under contract when Villa signed him, while the Scot claimed that he had resigned from the blues and was a free agent. Aston Villa fans protested outside Villa Park while graffiti that wasn’t exactly positive about McLeish had to be removed from the Villa training ground.

McLeish’s signings were pretty average with Shay Given, Alan Hutton and Charles N’Zogbia all signing up. These players were all fine, well relatively, but it was the losses of key players Ashley Young and Stewart Downing that really hurt Villa. Admittedly that sounds a bit laughable nowadays but these were two excellent wide men and Villa’s season suffered a lot due to their departure, not that that can completely excuse McLeish’s bad management.

In truth this toxic relationship between McLeish and the fans never truly recovered and it clearly seeped into the performances of the players. Villa actually started quite well going unbeaten until October, although they had drawn most of their games. One of the most disappointing aspects’ of McLeish’s reign was the failure in Cup Competitions. They lost in the 4th round of the FA Cup and the 3rd round of the League/EFL/Carabao/Carling/Coca-Cola/Capital One/Milk Cup.

Aston Villa had been coming off a pretty successful period in their history as Martin O’Neil had delivered three successive 6th placed finishes between 2007 and 2010 and even in Gerard Houllier’s single season he had managed to deliver 9th place. Villa finished 16th (and only 2 points clear of the drop) under McLeish and if you look at their finishes over the next few years (15th, 15th, 17th and 20th) its arguable that the season under McLeish signalled the beginning of the decline of Aston Villa. Lack of investment and poor managerial appointments certainly didn’t help things but this is certainly the beginning of the end for Villa.

McLeish managed to stay in charge for the whole season despite consistently underperforming, however, a 2-0 loss away from home to Norwich City was the final straw and the Scotsman was sacked shortly after this. It was the Norwich manager Paul Lambert that was brought in to replace McLeish but that is a bad management for a different time. McLeish has never really recovered his once promising managerial career if we’re honest with brief spells at Forest, and clubs in Belgium and Egypt not having gone well. McLeish should have never crossed the Birmingham battle line because his career hasn’t been the same since.