I always admired McLeish for that.
99% of the time he was honest. About players; with fans; regarding performance; talking about controversial issues. He was honest. He said it how it was. Maybe that’s why I learnt to dislike Arsene Wenger so much, because for the past three and a half seasons the manager of the club I supported was honest to me, to the players, the club, and the rest of the fans.
That’s why I was not only shocked at him leaving, but I was surprised that he did not give us a reason. He buried his head in the sand, ignored it all and then to went and spoke to our most despised rivals a couple of days later. I felt betrayed, actually, by a man I thought I could trust because he was always so honest.
Let’s be real: the football wasn’t always that great. But I liked him. He was a good man, a good manager and someone you could tell the players loved. He helped to bring good players to the club; gems like Scott Dann and Roger Johnson and experienced professionals in Barry Ferguson, Stephen Carr and Lee Bowyer. And then he even managed to build the team spirit which we have been renowned for other the past couple of years.
He got us promoted at the first time of asking, he took us to the dizzy heights of 6th in the Premier League in a season where we finished 9th, the highest we have ever finished before. He managed the unbeaten run stretching from October to January in 2009/10. He formed ‘the unbeatables’ of Hart, Carr, Johnson, Dann, Ridgewell, Larsson, Ferguson, Bowyer, McFadden, Jerome and Chucho. He was in charge for two of the best nights down at St. Andrews against Villa and West Ham, and unforgettably led the team to a 2-1 win over Arsenal in the Carling Cup Final – the first real piece of history and silverware the club has won.
Then we got relegated. Again. But he said he’d stick with us and lead us back to the Premier League. If he had left at the end of the season and said he felt he could do no more with us, after three and a half years, I would have somewhat understood his decision. I'd be disappointed, but I'd understand. But he brought in two new players, and in the middle of deals for two more players – ALL of which were on his transfer targets list – he resigned without warning.
We’re still waiting for McLeish to tell us just why he left; surely we deserve that at least? Or a thank you, or something. He may not get on with the board but as fans who, as a majority, have stuck by him through the dire football, through the first relegation and through the second one up until Sunday when he decided to leave, surely we deserve something? I thought he was honest, but would a man with honesty really do this to the club he’d been at for years? To go to their nearest rivals? A man who has witnessed, first-hand, the fans’ hatred of each other, and the passion and jubilance when we beat them. It doesn’t feel right.
But maybe I’m too trustworthy. Maybe I’m kidding myself to think people are loyal in football anymore, but I thought I could at least trust someone, the manager of my club, to stick with us through this tough time, and not jump ship to go to our rivals.
Or maybe I should just accept that this is the way things go. He was with us for a good amount of time, not a lot of managers stay this long at clubs. Maybe, at the end of last season after having finished 9th, I was wrong to think that we might be nearing some kind of stability on and off the field. But could I be excused for being so naïve? Do we not deserve something after some of the things we’ve had to endure in the past? Well, just over twelve months later I can tell you it doesn’t work that way. Football will always find a way to kick you where it hurts, but as fans we’ll always find reasons to come back for more.
Not only has McLeish left, but he has paved the way for players to leave too, players like Barry Ferguson who would have stayed if McLeish was still manager, so it’s with a feeling of betrayal that I say goodbye to Alex McLeish. I wish it hadn’t ended like this, but it’s his own doing really. Thanks for the Carling Cup and thanks for your time here at Blues. And above all thank you for teaching me that even the most honest of men cannot be trusted, not 100% of the time anyway. I’d say best of luck in the future, but both my head and my heart hope you fail miserably.
Cheers Eck, I hope the Villa fans are right about you.