- Manchester United News
- News Archive
- League Table
- Premier League News
McLeish: 'Fergie stopped me moving south - 25 years later, I'm glad he did'
Published : 26 Dec 2009 20:40:14
It was the cough that Alex McLeish remembers best. The cough, from the other side of the office door, that simply turned his legs to jelly. More than 25 years on, and Birmingham City's manager still has vivid memories of the moment when he first tried to move to England. Just one man stood between him and a transfer to Tottenham. Trouble was, that man happened to be a younger but every bit as menacing Alex Ferguson. McLeish told himself he would not be intimidated. He was 'Big Eck' after all, and something of a big deal as the towering and much respected centre half for Aberdeen and Scotland. 'I'll just tell him it's time to move on,' he said to his wife Gill before jumping out of the car and heading into Pittodrie. 'New challenge and all that.' Friends reunited: McLeish and Ferguson cross swords in 2003 following United's crushing 3-0 Champions League win over Rangers It all started, the big bloke sitting on the other side of the manager's desk at Birmingham's training ground recalls, after a game against France. 'There had been speculation in the papers about Spurs again,' says McLeish. 'It was June 1984 and Scotland had just played a friendly against the great French team that then went on to win the European Championship. The Platini team. They beat us 2-0 in Marseille. 'Anyway, there was speculation about me going to Spurs and the press asked me about it on the way back on the plane. One reporter told me that Fergie had said I would be signing a new contract the following week. I said, 'Well, I've got an open mind'. 'So he's on to me. Fergie I mean. 'What's this about an open mind? You said you'd sign this new contract. I'm going on holiday on Tuesday. I want you to come in on Monday.' I told him I'd see him when I got back. 'You trying to delay it? Get in on Monday.' So I went to see him and as I'm getting out the car I'm telling Gill I'm going to tell him it's time for a change. But I'm going in there on my own. I never had an agent. It's much easier now because players just take a back seat and let the agent knock the manager's door. They kick the door down. Times have changed. 'I'd told Gill I'd be back in five minutes because I predicted he'd go mad and throw me out of his office. And then I tap on the door, and I hear that cough, and my legs go. ''Hi boss'.' I says. ''What's all that s*** in the papers?' ''Well boss, I'd like to test myself down there'. 'He says, 'Ah ****, this is about money isn't it?' I say, well, I wasn't that happy with the offer. He says, 'You and Willie Miller are bleeding this club dry. I'll give you another fiver a week'. And I went 'OK'. I know, ridiculous. But, honestly, he could be very persuasive. 'I then walked back out to the car. 'So we off?' says Gill. 'We packing our bags?' ''No', I says. 'I just signed a new three-year contract'. ''I knew you would,' she says.' Eck of a job: McLeish has already aken Birmingham up to seventh - and now he has money to burn Two years into that three-year contract that Ferguson had been so keen for McLeish to sign, the manager left for Manchester United. Ferguson said he would return for him and take him south. 'In the end Fergie left before I did,' McLeish recalls. 'But he phoned me to say he had an agreement with the chairman that allowed him to come back for a few of us. Jim Leighton, Willie Miller, myself. But when it came to bidding for me, I was 28 or 29 by then, he felt Aberdeen were asking too much, and two weeks later he bought Gary Pallister. And never looked back.' If truth be told, McLeish wasn't that bothered. As a player, England had not had that much of a lure for him. It was other players who put the idea in his head. In particular Steve Archibald. 'Steve was down at Spurs, he was always on to me about when my contract was up,' McLeish recalls. ''Terry (Venables) wants you. Come down to Spurs. It's brilliant down here'. I remember asking Steve what drove him to play in England. He said it was a player called Ian Scanlon. Ian played at Notts County before Fergie signed him. But Ian was on to Steve every day. 'You've got to try it. You've got to get down there. It's fantastic. The money's great'. Steve says the guy just brainwashed him. 'After that Steve was never away from Fergie's door, trying to get a move south from Aberdeen. Eventually Fergie put a chair outside his door for him. Fergie wanted to keep Stevie but he gave up in the end. 'I have no regrets. If my dad had been alive it might have been different. He drove me to make it as a kid and he was around long enough to see me win the championship with Aberdeen and play for Scotland. I'm thankful for that. 'But I was only 21 when he died. He was 43. He worked in the same Govan shipyards as Fergie's dad and he'd had one heart attack and then decided to go back to work. Said he couldn't stay in the house. But walking home after his first night shift he collapsed again, in the street, and the second heart attack was too much for him.' Clearly emotional, McLeish has to clear his throat. 'At that time I had to be dad to my wee brother, who was only 10,' he says. 'And then I had a family. If my dad had been alive he might have driven me to go to England. Without him, though, I chose to stay put.' McLeish lifts the Cup Winners' Cup in 1983 after Aberdeen's extra-time victory over Real Madrid As a manager, McLeish was different. He knew he would have to go to England to discover if he was good enough. It took him 23 years to get there, after that first flirtation with Spurs, but he made it after starting with Motherwell as a player-manager and then accepting the rather more daunting challenges of Rangers and Scotland. To say it has been a hard road to St Andrew's would be something of an understatement. 'A hard paper round,' says McLeish with a smile. 'But when you look back, there has been a little contribution to football there,' he adds. There have been some major career highlights. He came within the away goals rule of guiding Rangers to the last eight of the Champions League one year and he gained revenge over the French with a famous victory in Paris. Revenge mission: McLeish observes as James McFadden hails his match-winning strike in the Parc des Princes 'People always saw me as a manager,' he says. 'I wanted to play for as long as I could, and then learn alongside an experienced manager. But then I got a call, when I was 34 or 35, from Motherwell. I plunged right into in, had a good first season and got a bit of a profile.' He enhanced his reputation with a decent spell at Hibs but even then he was surprised to receive the call from Rangers. 'I was surprised to get the job because I thought Rangers and Celtic were only going for trophy managers,' he says. 'Martin (O'Neill) was building a very good team at Celtic and they were spanking Rangers. 'A lot of journalists thought I was being thrown to the lions. But I felt I couldn't knock it back. Even if I was sacked a week later I'd still be able to say I'd been the Rangers manager. People said what if it doesn't work. I said what if it does. 'After Rangers you feel as if you can go through anything. It's a goldfish bowl. Total intensity. At Hibs I used to moan about the fact that I'd talk for fun for 40 minutes on a Friday and in the papers the next day there'd be two lines, six pages in. At Rangers you could say two lines and it would make six pages.' In the goldfish bowl: McLeish clashes with then Celtic manager Gordon Strachan at Celtic Park It was only when he became Scotland manager, however, that England really started to take notice. 'I was sounded out about a couple of other jobs in the Premier League before I came here but I was Scotland manager at the time and I just ignored them,' he says. 'But when Birmingham came back after I'd moved on from Scotland that was it. I knew it was a bit of a yo-yo club, but I could see it was a decent opportunity. Even though the first takeover attempt had fallen through and I never actually expected us to be where we are now, with our new owners.' They are flying after what amounted to a difficult start for McLeish. Having arrived at the club in November 2007, he was unable to guide them clear of relegation. But he steered them back to the Barclays Premier League last season and now they are seventh, one place above Liverpool. 'I know I'm not the finished article but I have made some progress since I got here,' he says. 'So far the only achievement is getting back to the Premier League, but the new owners have made money available to spend and we will see what happens.' Carson Yeung, who took over in the autumn, has said money is no object an £80million transfer kitty has been mentioned but McLeish says he will act responsibly. 'It's a difficult situation I find myself in because my players have done extremely well,' he says. 'Do I upset that spirit by bringing the wrong player in? 'I would like to do it brick by brick, because I've seen other examples when it's been done the wrong way. Clubs that are in massive debt after spending a fortune on players. The new owners have said there is no ceiling, but morally I feel duty bound not to go crazy. 'I'll go for Lionel Messi and then leave it at that.' One day he might not be joking. 'I keep the Shed End in my loft', says Birmingham's very own Chelsea fan Roger JohnsonThe rise and rise of Birmingham City: As good as it gets for fans weaned on the Blues McLeish to be offered new deal after steering Birmingham towards EuropeBIRMINGHAM FC