Virtually everyone who comes to the Cayman Islands for a vacation leaves singing its praises and intending to return as soon as possible.
Alex McLeish has travelled the world as a footballer and manager and for him this is one of the spots he simply had to savour again. Three years after his initial stay of three weeks, McLeish spent a week here with wife Jill and loved it just as much.
The former Aston Villa manager is looking for a new job having been unceremoniously sacked a couple of months ago despite working miracles in keeping the side competitive although lesser managers could not have juggled all the difficulties so adeptly. Ah well, he just shrugs at the precarious nature of his profession.
We’re sitting beside the Ritz-Carlton’s Blue restaurant and McLeish has mixed emotions.
Fellow Scotsman Andy Murray has just lost in the Wimbledon final to Roger Federer, his beloved Rangers are in all sorts of financial trouble and the United Kingdom where he is returning to the next day is having another blanket rainfall. At least he’s just enjoyed a wonderful brunch with local Scot Dennis Hunter and totally recharged his batteries under the glorious Cayman sun.
“I was with Jill for four days in Miami and we thought we might as well catch up with some old friends in the Cayman Islands,” McLeish says. “We’ve had a great week here. Again, not enough time to get round to all the friends to see all of them, but we’ve had a fabulous time.
“Dennis is the connection here and Jim McLean. I’ve met them when they’ve come over to the UK for their vacation and basically, they’re wonderful guys and there are many more that if I start to name them this interview will last three hours.”
Alex and Jill did all the touristy things before, so this time it was just a relaxing stay lazing around the beach and pool. “I just tried to chill out reading some books and magazines after a very tough season in the Barclays Premier League.”
McLeish lasted a year at Villa having left nearby Birmingham City who were relegated at the end of the 2010-11 season. Jumping from one club to another across any city is always an extremely tough task and despite moderate success, it was deemed not enough for McLeish to be retained.
“The Villa job was a massive challenge for me and made even more demanding because of the fact that I worked with the club on a project to reduce the wages.
“Not every Villa fan will agree I did a marvellous job but I did manage to reduce the wage levels and at the same time remaining competitive which became increasingly difficult when we lost a lot of key players through injury and the captain, Stiliyan Petrov has a grave illness, acute leukaemia. I hope he can recover from it.
“But I must say that a great number of young players came into the game and they had great education. Maybe not quite ready to play every single week but they fought a really good fight and managed to finish above some more experienced teams.
“There were a few difficulties but I don’t think the Villa fans totally accepted me being in the job. Villa fans expect to be further up the table but it doesn’t necessarily mean you will finish in the top six.
“You do need to have your experienced players at all times and obviously try to increase the quality to do that. That would have been the next step for me but unfortunately things have moved on and I will take a break. That’s why I’m here, to recharge my batteries, get the vitamin D back in my body and get back into football in a very enthusiastic manner.”
The 53-year-old Glaswegian hopes to find an appointment this summer, ideally in the Premiership but he doesn’t rule out a Championship team or even going abroad.
As for the Andy Murray disappointment, at least the 25-year-old Scot reached a Wimbledon final after seven decades of a Brit never doing so.
“It was a massive improvement for Andy,” says McLeish. “I met him last year at Wimbledon. He’s a great lad. He’s such a skilful player but he’s in a era where the guys in front of him in the rankings are totally out of this world. Andy’s world class as well but he’s still got to win one of these Grand Slams. He was very close today. It’s very fine margins between champions and runners-up and hopefully he’ll go the next step.
“It was wonderful to see him in a Wimbledon final and if you look at the scores there was nothing much in it in the sets. Federer shows experience is vital in the end.”
McLeish is relishing the London Olympics in a couple of weeks and will obviously be keeping a close eye on how the Great Britain football team does, even though only English and Welsh players are in the squad, no Scottish and Irish.
“I think it will be hard for the GB team to win the tournament because of the quality of the teams, like the Brazilians. It is not a sport that will help them get that gold medal!”
McLeish established himself as a player throughout a wonderful career with Aberdeen, some of the time under Alex Ferguson and manager with Glasgow Rangers in a glorious era that brought trophies galore in five years at Ibrox.
So it is especially sad for him to see them struggling for existence now under a weight of debt. (This interview was set up by avid Celtic supporter David Logue, who loves banter with Rangers supporters. )
“Every day we hear news about Rangers and it’s always bad,” says McLeish a little forlornly. “Unfortunately, the ways things are right now, it’s going to continue down that road until its fate is decided. I feel that we Rangers fans should take things into our own hands instead of letting everybody else decide on what’s going to happen to us.
“I know that administration was a big blow to the club but it’s a chance to start again and get stronger. Whether it takes one, two or three years, Rangers will bounce back. We’re far too big to not be involved in world football again.”
Jeffrey Webb, the newly-appointed president of CONCACAF, is a friend of McLeish and he is pleased that the Cayman Islands Football Association chief has ascended to one of world football’s top jobs.
“I keep in touch with Jeff and congratulated him through email when I heard he’d got the CONCACAF boss job. And I’m so pleased for Jeff. He’s a wonderful guy, his family are beautiful people. He can do a lot of great work for CONCACAF.”
He starts chuckling: “I also met again, Alfredo Whittaker (Cayman’s most experienced official), the best referee in the Caribbean!”