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Alex McLeish earns shot at Wembley glory

Carling Cup final
Venue: Wembley Stadium Date: Sunday, 28 February Kick-off: 1600 GMT
Coverage: Watch live on BBC One & BBC One HD from 1500 GMT, highlights on The League Cup Show; also live on Sky Sports 1; listen on BBC Radio 5 live and BBC local radio; text commentary on the BBC Sport website


McLeish relishes chance to win first English trophy

By Mike Henson

On Sunday, Birmingham boss Alex McLeish will dine at football's top table, competing with the aristocrats of Arsenal for the season's first silverware on a pristine Wembley surface.

The 52-year-old who, in 17 years in management has always wanted the chance to test himself amongst the English top flight, described his first shot at an English trophy as a "dream come true".

But in May 2008, six months after arriving at St Andrew's, it seemed his decision to swap the blue of the Scottish national job for that of England's second city may have been misjudged.

As Scotland boss, McLeish had been within a match of qualifying for the 2008 European Championships.

He began his reign with Birmingham a fine 3-2 win over Tottenham, but from that promising start his side slid into the Championship - a victim of Fulham's late surge for survival.

He spent the summer of 2008 plotting how he could regain the club's Premier League status and seemingly save his own job.

Alex is probably a little bit more authoritative, deliberately so, maybe slightly affectedly so,

Former team-mate Pat Nevin

The signing of Lee Carsley from Everton, and his installation as captain, was an important part of McLeish's success on both counts.

"It was the first time I had met Alex," Carsley told BBC Sport of his move to Birmingham in June 2008.

"I went to his house that summer for a couple of meetings with him. He was very determined and very single-minded about what he wanted to do at the club and I think it is one of the best signings that the board has made.

"He's big on discipline and he leads by example, he's been a player himself so he knows the way it works. If a player tries to take a short cut it won't be anything that he hasn't seen in the past.

"As captain I always had a good relationship with him. As well as being a good manager he is a good person."

Chairman David Gold had been adamant that an immediate return to the Premier League was an absolute priority, and, whatever his personal qualities, it seemed highly unlikely McLeish would get a chance of a second shot at the second tier if he failed.

Even in the hours after promotion back to the big time had been secured, McLeish seemed uncertain of an extended stay with the Blues.

But he remained and - with a ninth-place finish last season and Sunday's showpiece to look forward to - has continued a rough repeat of the turnaround he once oversaw with Hibernian.

Arriving at the Edinburgh club in 1998, he had been unable to stave off relegation from the Scottish Premier Division but immediately led them back into the top tier the following season.

A creditable sixth-place finish followed in 2000 before earning third spot and reaching the Scottish Cup final in 2001 to convince Rangers to make him only the 11th manager of their history.

It is tempting to dig deeper into his past to find the roots of his success.

He formed a formidable central defensive partnership with Willie Miller at Aberdeen and Scotland, playing under Sir Alex Ferguson for eight years.

Friday Focus - Carling Cup final preview

Ferguson's influence in McLeish's life grew when the defender, at the age of 22, lost his shipbuilder father to a heart attack.

Ferguson's father had worked in the same industry and McLeish remains a good friend of the Manchester United manager.

But he resists the inevitable comparisons, protesting that Ferguson is a "different man" to the one who guided the Dons to European Cup Winners Cup success in 1983.

"Let's face it a lot of us have tried to copy big Jock [Stein] and Fergie and might think it is about making up fancy words and bamboozling our players with tactical stuff and making long-winded speeches," he told Michael Grant and Rob Robertson in their book The Management.

"But you hear them and you realise that they made it really simple. They have common sense they are streetwise and there's great intelligence there."

Certainly McLeish's measured style is more in keeping with a man who trained as an accountant before he made it as a footballer.

Pat Nevin, a Scotland team-mate of McLeish during the pair's playing days, insists there is more to McLeish than the straight-laced disciplinarian he plays to camera.

"He led by example as much as anything, but he wasn't frightened to let fly with some invective, particularly with anyone who didn't work up to his standard," said McLeish.

"Alex has a brilliant sense of humour, but all managers at some point will get stitched up or feel stitched up and it has an effect on the personality you let through.

Focus Forum - Cameron Jerome

"Alex is probably a little bit more authoritative, deliberately so, maybe slightly affectedly so, but that is the same for every single manager in history.

"Part of it is the person, part of it is the act, but behind that he is brilliant."

McLeish's great love away from football is film, but he also enjoys music - Nevin's own off-field passion.

The winger recounts how his older team-mate led the joshing upon hearing of his latest extravagantly named musical discovery - The Justified Ancients of Mu Mu - only to unwittingly give Nevin a glowing review of the band's later incarnation - the KLF - several years later.

Bantering about political stunt-pulling house music acts is a long way from tactical cup final battles with Arsene Wenger, but McLeish has earned his place as part of the football establishment.

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see also
Arsenal 1-2 Birmingham
27 Feb 11 |  League Cup
McLeish revels in cup final win
27 Feb 11 |  League Cup
Fabregas ruled out of cup final
25 Feb 11 |  Arsenal
Friday Focus - Carling Cup final preview
25 Feb 11 |  Football Focus
Focus Forum - Cameron Jerome
22 Feb 11 |  Football Focus
Wembley play down pitch worries
24 Feb 11 |  League Cup
Birmingham 3-1 West Ham (agg 4-3)
26 Jan 11 |  League Cup
McLeish leaves Scotland for Blues
27 Nov 07 |  Football
McLeish to leave Rangers in May
09 Feb 06 |  Rangers
Sorceror McLeish casts spell
17 Sep 03 |  Rangers

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