Often Partisan


It’s a tough life being a Premiership manager these days. Already four managers have lost their jobs this season, and a few more are nervously looking over their shoulders as their respective chairmen are starting to get antsy. Apparently last night there was a large sum of money placed on the next manager to go being Alex McLeish. Having read the Birmingham City forums recently, I’m not surprised.

I’ll admit here and now I like McLeish. I think he’s done a decent job with us, and I don’t want him to go just yet. However, I can see why some people have turned on him, and I think defeat tomorrow night against West Ham could seal his fate with many more people; possibly even the owners.

One of the main problems McLeish has is that he is too careful. For instance, the club signed Martin Jiranek in the summer from CSKA Moscow. Jiranek has captained his club in the Champions League, and is a seasoned international with thirty one caps. Yet McLeish has resisted all temptation to play Jiranek at all in the Premier League, and has just given him game time in the cups. The reasoning for this is that Jiranek doesn’t have Premier League experience – but of course if he doesn’t play in the first team, he can’t get that experience. Some will point to the good form of Johnson and Dann keeping him out, but again, I would say that this good form hasn’t been so in place this year, and that I believe that Johnson and Dann got a bit complacent at times, knowing that they were going to get picked every game. Because Jiranek hasn’t been blooded in some of the games earlier in the season, it’s now a massive gamble to play him – and with Dann out McLeish is still too careful to do it, preferring Ridgewell in the middle and Murphy on the left.

There is also the argument that McLeish is too cautious in our attack play; the old 4-5-1 argument. This is an argument that tires me; playing two strikers up front doesn’t necessarily mean the team will be more attacking – it’s down to the midfield to push up the field and support the front two and that has what has been lacking. I’m not sure if it’s instruction on the manager’s part, or if it is the players themselves, but we keep isolating the front man in the box and it’s crippling our attempts to score goals.

All that being said though, I’m not a believer in short-termism. We talk about lack of loyalty from players – aren’t managers allowed to expect some loyalty from fans? In my opinion our finish last season has hamstrung us, in that people are expecting a lot more from a team that vastly overachieved last season. I think our ninth placed finish last season means that McLeish has earnt the right to at least stay in charge until the end of the season; and as unambitious as it sounds but any finish above 17th should equal him keeping the job for another season.

People talk about how they’d take a cup win over a repeated 17th finish in the Premiership; that a Cup win and relegation would be a successful season. Does this mean if we are knocked out of the cup, having gone to try and win it; even changing our team in the league to rest players in an effort to do so, that McLeish has been wrong? I don’t think so.

What I think is happening to McLeish is what happened to Steve Bruce. Bruce did really well with us for a few seasons, but then he couldn’t take it any further and it started to get stale. Before long it was relegation, and then after taking us up it looked like (and turned out to be) relegation again, and Bruce was canned. Has McLeish taken us as far as he can? I don’t think that’s the case, but for many it’s his stubbornness is holding us back. I guess we’ll only truly know in hindsight.

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