McLeish can’t resist Cayman

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!”

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5 COMMENTS

  1. 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.

    Birmingham City didn’t just get relegated by chance…Alex didn’t prove good enough to keep the club in the Premiereship…and despite injuries and money worries, he almost got Aston Villa relegated as well; that is why they sacked him.

    After the Carling Cup victory, Alex never won another match in the Premiereship with Birmingham City; that is why the club got relegated.

    After having worked at the club for the last 3 seasons I’ve witnessed Alex’s passion for the game but passion is not enough sometime; his defensive approach to football had both Birmingham City and Aston Villa playing a negative brand of football that is very hard to succeed in the Barclays Premiereship with.

    Teams like Swansea City and Norwich City showed that if a team wishes to stay in the Premiereship, they have to play attacking football at home; Alex’s teams cannot this with his coaching philosophy and he will struggle to get another job in the Premiereship.

    Its great to see that he has Cayman connections and maybe Jeffrey Webb can use those connections to help Cayman’s best young players forward their ambitions for a career in professional football.

    It would give me the greatest pleasure, as a former footballer in Cayman now working at Birmingham City FC…

    If one day, I might see a Caymanian name on the roster of a Premiereship or even Championship club, here in Britain.

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  2. Quite possibly Caymanian-Jamaican.

    I do some work for Wolverhampton Wanderers FC as well.

    The Jamaican and Caymanian presence is very strong in this area…although many Caymanians don’t know that; the Jamaicans know it very well since they’ve been here since the 1950s.

    My sponsors as a footballer in Cayman came from the British expatriate community, some of whom had been on the books of professional clubs here in Britain…

    And that sponsorship was in terms of financial benefits; I never played football for free and Webb knows this very well and had a huge problem with it at the time.

    Webb and CIFA have never really seen eye-to-eye with us on certain issues regarding Caymanian football but…

    That was a long time ago…and Cayman still has yet to produce a full-fledged professional footballer.

    The question is still being asked in the world of professional football, whether Webb chooses to acknowledge it or not…

    How can Cayman produce a chief of CONCACAF and FIFA vice-president…and not have anything resembling even competitive, much less professional football…

    And, truthfully ?

    Webb knows the answer to that question as well as any of us who work in the professional game does.

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  3. The problem that Horace Burrell and Jamaica is facing with so many Jamaican heritage footballers in England is another story altogether.

    I still can’t get my head wrapped around the fact that his coach, Theodore Whitmore, sent home our top scoring striker (Birmingham City), Marlon King for supposedly breaking some silly unwritten curfew rule AFTER a practice match that Jamaica lost against Panama…Marlon being Jamaica’s TOP striker since 1998, when Jamaica qualified for the World Cup in France.

    And ended up drawing a match against Antigua and Barbuda…supposed minnows in their group…with the mighty USA up next…a team that Jamaica has NEVER beaten.

    Anyway, Marlon doesn’t seem unduly worried…

    He was back in pre-season training at Birmingham this week with a huge grin on his face.

    I’m telling you now, straight up, Jeffrey Webb and Cayman, and Horace Burrell and Jamaica have HUGE issues on the football field to sort out…

    Regardless of their high and mighty positions in CONCACAF….and FIFA.

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