In the curious case of Alex McLeish and Birmingham City, what was said and what was not said was a dead giveaway that McLeish was a dead man walking. Judging by the soundbites emanating from his mouthy chairman Peter Pannu at the end of a season in which Birmingham plunged back into the murkier waters of the Championship, the prognosis for 'Big Eck's' future health was not good.
If his side had made a faltering start to the new season, there is every likelihood that he would have been put out to pasture before the clocks went back. At only 52, it is better to walk than be pushed, Eck. Or at least forward on a quick email to break the news to mother during summer recess.
McLeish did not require a sixth sense to detect murmurings of discontent. Pannu did his talking publicly. "The club can confirm that manager Alex McLeish's job is safe, but the board expect him to lead the side back to the Premier League in the 2011-12 season," said Pannu. This came after a wretched defeat at Tottenham had consigned Birmingham to a new level.
Call me old-fashioned, but Pannu's ramblings were not the sort of whole-hearted endorsement that a manager would want to hear when he is navigating a new chapter immediately after his team's demise. McLeish probably had more than a gut instinct that it was time to get out.
The problem that McLeish always had at Birmingham was that he was never Carson Yeung's man. Yeung inherited McLeish when he bought the club from David Sullivan and the good ol' Gold boys back in 2009.
When McLeish was negotiating a new contract nine months ago, the outspoken Pannu went public with this little gem: "He was asking for a very large amount, which I was not prepared to meet. He deserves a bonus. But to suggest he is in the top class like a Jose Mourinho, well he is no Mourinho yet."
Under such circumstances, it is little wonder that Birmingham were relegated. Uneasiness between manager and management tends to encourage failure in football.
Hailing from a land where the telephone was invented, McLeish is not averse to using the old Dog and Bone. One knows this from personal experience. Whenever one would call McLeish for news about club or country, he would always have the good grace to return your calls. He has always been acutely aware of the need for solid public relations. There is little doubt that the email to Pannu announcing his resignation was pre-planned, or pre-panned.
McLeish's decision to avoid the more traditional routes of contact in resigning from his position as manager suggests he is far from content about his treatment. Who would want to speak to someone who has tried to undermine you with a series of comments that have been disrespectful and hurtful?
McLeish is a proud man. He is a straight shooter who played in one of the greatest club sides in the history of British football when Alex Ferguson's Aberdeen team won the European Cup Winners' Cup by downing Real Madrid in 1983. He has not been afforded proper respect by Pannu or Yeung, a former barber who was probably cutting hair in Hong Kong while McLeish was rampaging around Europe as a player.
McLeish is a fine manager. He coached Motherwell to second place in the Scottish Premier League in his first coaching job in 1994 before bringing a dash of flair to Hibernian by recruiting players such as Russell Latapy and Franck Sauzee. He won the Scottish First Division with Hibs in 1999. He led them to third spot in the SPL in 2001.
Hibs fans continues to look back on those days of a decade ago with a sort of misty-eyed view of the past. McLeish matched Martin O'Neill's fabled haul of seven trophies at Celtic during a five-year spell running Rangers. It remains his most productive time in management. He was one win short of coaching Scotland to the Euro 2008 finals after they come up agonisingly short in a group containing Italy and France. It was a campaign that included a win in Paris.
He led Birmingham back to the Premier League from the Championship in 2009 and steered them to ninth place in the table. It was their highest finish in the English league for over 50 years. Overcoming Arsenal 2-1 in the Carling Cup final in February gave Birmingham their first major trophy in 48 years.
A club has needed 39 points or more to avoid relegation in only two of the past 10 years in the Premier League. Birmingham went down clinging to 39.
If he is no Jose Mourinho, Yeung is no Roman Abramovich. He has not bedecked McLeish with the level of finance needed to be certain of staying afloat in the Premier League. He has not lived up to expectations. He is as culpable as McLeish and the players for Birmingham's relegation from England's elite league.
McLeish has always said that you are never a proper centre half in football until you suffer a broken nose. You are probably never a proper manager until you get a bloodied one. McLeish has now suffered both in football, but he will come again.
Aston Villa could do a lot worse than look at McLeish's nuances before they doff their cap at the next candidate on a seemingly endless coveyer belt of possibilities. If Villa fans can see the bigger picture, they should realise that McLeish has the ability for the job.
- Alex McLeish