What awaits Alex McLeish at Villa

'We're not fickle, we just don't like you' was the banner that marked David O'Leary's relationship with Villa fans – it could reappear at Alex McLeish's first game in charge.

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'We're not fickle, we just don't like you' was the banner that marked David O'Leary's relationship with Villa fans – it could reappear at Alex McLeish's first game in charge.

Providing everything goes to plan at interview – rumoured to be a formality – a man who walked out on bitter rivals Birmingham just four days ago will be installed as the manager of Aston Villa Football Club.

What was initially laughed off as mischief making by fans of a claret and blue persuasion has quickly become a sobering reality – and one that has provoked an angry response from supporters. The full extent of that will not be seen until the season proper kicks off.

But the fact that more than 14,000 people signed up to a Facebook page called 'Aston Villa Supporters – We don't want Alex McLeish' as well as protests being planned for today you would assume there is an acute awareness of the situation.

If so, Villa owner Randy Lerner is undoubtedly making a high-stakes gamble with the appointment of McLeish as the club are at a huge crossroads on the pitch.

If it backfires, the knives will be out for him and chief executive Paul Faulkner. With many threatening not to renew season tickets and boycott club merchandise, it could also hit them in the pocket.

To McLeish's credit, he has shown a lot of bottle by putting himself in the running for the job and he will have to draw upon that resilience and mental toughness over the forthcoming few months.

McLeish knows the deep-seated tribal passions which cut to the bone in the Second City from his time at St Andrew's and as manager of Glasgow Rangers.

And, rest assured, in the eyes of Villa fans this is no different from someone crossing the Glasgow divide and swapping Parkhead for Ibrox.

The 52-year-old Scot must quickly overcome the fact he is starting in minus credit in the eyes of supporters and the charm offensive will have to begin on day one.

Gerard Houllier's public relations gaffes were well documented and, at a higher-profile club, McLeish may find what went largely unreported at Blues is headline news at Villa.

A determination to play aesthetically-pleasing football – something he was not exactly famed for at Blues – will be high on the Villa's list of requirements but he knows that must not come at the expense of results.

Primarily because of who he is, where he has come from and what he represents it will feel like McLeish is only ever a handful of games away from getting the sack.

McLeish will have his coping mechanisms for the inevitably tough period ahead but whether the same level of understanding properly exists in the Villa boardroom is debatable.

It is under a similar guise that criticism of Villa's handling of the whole management search comes into sharp focus.

The outcome of Houllier's health situation must have been obvious to the club's hierarchy.

It begs the question as to why Villa did not spend the time sounding out prospective new candidates. How come it only took Fulham two days to secure the appointment of Martin Jol?

The appointment of McLeish brings several other matters into perspective – would Villa supporters have been entirely happy with anyone that was realistically available?

Steve McClaren and Rafael Benitez would both have represented solid choices in their own right but, as speculation mounted that both would be interviewed, it prompted a negative reaction.

Indeed, enough to sway the board away from ruling McClaren out completely.

It would be wrong to rule out McLeish becoming a success at Villa, of course, and the best way of winning the fans over is on the pitch. But, should things go pear shaped, it will bring other matters to a head.

Back in 2006, O'Leary was able to achieve the feat of becoming even more unpopular than Doug Ellis.

But should it all go sour with McLeish, you sense the emphasis will shift back to those who gave him the job in the first place.

All of a sudden, Lerner could find himself the subject of the Holte End banner makers.

By Timothy Abraham

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