Can Alex McLeish lead the Blues to long term Premier League survival?
Its hard to think of another team who have suffered relegation after relegation, followed by promotion after promotion, but thats what Alex McLeish and Birmingham City have once again gone through. Former Scotland manager McLeish, took over from former manager Steve Bruce in November 2007, who had already steered Birmingham through two promotions, and suffered one relegation, whilst heading for another. Bruce jumped ship to Wigan, and McLeish’s task was obvious… keep the Blues in the Premier League. ‘Eck’ as he is affectionatly known, made Birmingham a more solid outfit, who built up an impressive home record, but that wasnt enough as they were relegated once again, despite a final day, 4-1 mauling of Blackburn Rovers.
Fast forward a full, hectic, tough Championship season, and Birmingham confirm their return to the Premier League following a tight 2-1 win at fellow-relegated club Reading. McLeish, and the Birmingham board didnt wait around, and began their summer business, clearing out some of the deadwood in Radhi Jaidi and Mehdi Nafti, and sufficiently strengthening the team, with big money buys from abroad, Christian Benitez, an Ecuador international, who played for Mexican-based Santos Laguna, aswell as players from this country, former Cardiff City centre half Roger Johnson, and former Coventry skipper Scott Dann, aswell as former Scotland and Rangers captain, Barry Ferguson.
For the first time in a while, there is a feel good factor surrounding the club. Everyone seems to be working in unison. The board are signing the players McLeish has identified, in the positions the fans knew needed strengthening. This, coupled with renovations to the facilities at St Andrews, aswell as the fitting of a Big Screen, has renewed optimism and vigour throughout the Blue side of the city. The fixture computer may have generated the most difficult fixture in the league for the Blues on their comeback to the Premier League, with a trip to Champions Manchester United on the opening weekend, however Birmingham are used to this, having faced Arsenal away when they were Champions, 7 years ago, and facing Chelsea first up at Stamford Bridge 2 years ago. This being said, it will be a long, gruelling season for the Blues… but one they will relish in their attempt to establish themselves once again as a Premiership outfit.