Villa in turmoil over pursuit of Alex McLeish
Fans revolt over approach for former Birmingham boss, while Blues escalate war of words
Aston Villa are facing the twin threats of legal action and supporter protests as they continue in their attempt to sign Birmingham manager Alex McLeish, the latest man on a long list of candidates approached to replace the recently departed Gerard Houllier at Villa Park.
Rafa Benitez, Mark Hughes, Carlo Ancelotti, Roberto Martinez and Martin O'Neil have all reportedly spurned the advances of Villa since the post became vacant two weeks ago. But Villa's approach for Alex McLeish – the manager who failed to keep their Midlands rivals in the Premier League this season despite winning the League Cup – has been the most controversial move yet.
Anger from supporters is already boiling over. They were irked by the club's interest in former England manager Steve McClaren and frustrated by the very public rejections from other managers, now the fans are in open revolt at the potential appointment of McLeish. Over 10,000 people have already supported a Facebook page titled 'Aston Villa Supporters - We don't want Alex McLeish'.
Even if Villa owner Randy Lerner and co could stomach the initial opposition from fans, it remains unclear whether the Claret and Blues would even be able to legally secure the services of the 52-year-old Scot. It is understood that McLeish resigned from Birmingham via email on Sunday, with over two years still left on his contract. But Peter Pannu, acting chairman at St Andrews, has rejected the resignation.
"He is still our contracted staff and Birmingham City FC does not grant him any right to speak to any outsiders until the matter is resolved," he said in the Guardian. "It's about time discipline is instilled into this game and I am not a person who gets pushed about," Pannu continued, calling McLeish's decision "irresponsible".
McLeish is understood to be pursuing a case for constructive dismissal against Birmingham, likely to be centred on his relationship with owner Carson Yeung, who took over the club in 2009. Yet Pannu dismissed these claims, and made it clear that Villa would be charged over £5m in compensation should they manage to pouch McLeish.
"Their legal department said 'now Alex McLeish is a free agent having resigned, we're free to speak to him," Pannu explained, after an email exchange with Aston Villa. He continued: "Within the first year [of his new contract] he, or the club who sign him, have to compensate us at £5.4m. The first year expires on 30 June. The second year starts 1 July, when the compensation fee is £3m."
"I'll be seeking an injunction preventing Villa from hiring him," Pannu added. "I'll be reporting what's happened to the Premier League." ·
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