Alex kicked back in style

So many of Alex Ferguson’s former players are now successful managers, mostly in the Premiership that his legacy will last for many years when he eventually retires from Manchester United.

Alex McLeish is one of them, having played under Fergie during Aberdeen’s glory years in the Eighties.

McLeish brought Birmingham City up from the Championship last season and will not expect any favours from his former mentor when they play the mighty Reds.

If it came to sentimentality, Ferguson would not know where to start. Other former players now at the helm in the Prem are Steve Bruce (Sunderland) and Mark Hughes (Manchester City). Roy Keane (formerly Sunderland) and Gordon Strachan (formerly Celtic) were also Fergie graduates.

McLeish is arguably the most successful of them so far. He cut his managerial teeth at Motherwell and Hibs then stepped up to be Rangers boss for five mostly successful years.

That led to a stint as Scotland’s national coach where his greatest result was beating France 1-0 in a European Championship qualifier, their greatest triumph ever. With Scotland winning 70 per cent of their matches, McLeish was statiscally their best ever manager.

Then he moved by to club football lured by Birmingham two years ago, taking over from Bruce. They were relegated but will now do battle with the big boys again next month.

McLeish, 50, was in Cayman recently for a vacation and attended the opening of the Centre of Excellence in Prospect and the fund raising dinner at the Ritz-Carlton the following day. He met Jeff Webb, president of the Cayman Islands Football Association, and they forged a friendship.

Just before he left with his wife, McLeish said: ‘We’ve had a fantastic holiday, we’ve done so much. We came here thinking three weeks may be too long, but in actual fact we may be running out of time to do all the things we wanted to do… the restaurants, the people, the culture and the entertainment factor has been fantastic. Also we wanted to take time out to go to Havana for three days and I’ve enjoyed every minute of it.’

How did Cayman become his destination of choice? ‘A friend recommended it and I knew Jeff Webb from a few years back and I thought: ‘Cayman Islands, where is it?’

‘I just knew it as a tax haven for a lot of Brits and Europeans but I never really considered going there. A pal said: ‘What are you doing for your holidays?’ It was basically only three or four weeks before we came. And then Jeff came on the phone and said: ‘What are you doing for your holidays? You should come here man, it’s fantastic.”

The former Celtic director, Brian Dempsey, who until last year had lived for years in Cayman before returning to Scotland, kindly offered the McLeish his apartment here. They got online, checked out what Cayman had to offer and the fact that the holiday would coincide with the opening of the Centre of Excellence with all the FIFA head honchos visiting, clinched it.

‘I thought it would be nice to be part of that and to help Jeff raise the profile of the Cayman Islands Football Association.’

So with batteries recharged and new challenges ahead, the tough Scotsman has to get focused again.

‘Birmingham have been a yo-yo club over the years. The secret is staying up the first time around and trying to establish ourselves as a bona fide Premier League team as opposed to a team just visiting the Premiership.

‘I don’t think you have to look any further than Big Sam Allardyce (Blackburn Rovers manager) who is here in Cayman as well for that. Sam’s a master now of staying in the Premier League and I’d love to get a foothold in the Premiership the way he’s done it.’

The McLeishes had a fun time here. Alex joked at the start of the holiday that having to attend formal functions prevented him from growing a beard.

He still hadn’t grown one at the end of his stay ‘because I’ve been going to too many posh restaurants’.

Humorous McLeish gave a speech at the Ritz-Carlton dinner and got the biggest laugh when he put Scotland in the same bracket of greatness as Brazil and Argentina!

He added: ‘I’ve already discussed with Jeff and we threw a few ideas around the table at dinner and the jigsaw is piecing together nicely. Jeff has worked so hard to get people like Sepp Blatter and Jack Warner here.

‘These guys are very important in world football and the fact that they were here is recognition of Jeff and the power that he has gained with FIFA means a lot. So we would like to support him and maybe they can throw up some coaches next year and maybe some coaches can come along and help the Cayman Islands grow.

‘If Madeira can produce a guy who has just cost $130 million (Cristiano Ronaldo) then why not the Cayman Islands? Other than that it’s the whole sporting aspect of Cayman. The people here are very much like the Scottish, entrepreneurial minded, dynamic and it’s fantastic that you have guys like Jeff driving you.

‘Obviously, it’s more difficult for Cayman to produce world class players because it’s such a small nation, but if you keep encouraging and coaching the right aspects, it can happen.’

Does he think that Cayman can produce more great Caribbean players like John Barnes, Russell Latapy and Dwight Yorke?

‘Obviously, some people are born with the right talent. Latapy and Yorke have an in-built talent but then they got the organisation from the Europeans and they became world stars. So why not? It’s got to be the goal for Cayman.’

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