Villa risk fans' wrath if they appoint McLeish
When Steve McClaren entered the swirl of speculation surrounding Aston Villa's next manager, his hopes were swept away on a tidal wave of supporters' unrest.
He could not escape the image of 'The Wally With The Brolly' fashioned by his decision to seek protection under an umbrella as England slumped to the defeat against Croatia at Wembley that confirmed their failure to reach Euro 2008.
As the sound of mounting discontent reached the Villa Park boardroom, McClaren's name was struck from list of potential successors to Gerard Houllier.
So will Villa owner Randy Lerner, a keen observer of Villa heritage and student of fans' emotions, invite the possibility of even greater unrest by appointing Alex McLeish, whose sudden resignation via e-mail stunned fierce rivals Birmingham City?
McLeish's departure, followed by heavy criticism from Blues' acting chairman Peter Pannu who was on transfer business for his ex-manager in Holland, saw him instantly linked with a contentious trip across the city to Villa.
If Lerner was indeed persuaded away from McClaren by the lobbying of Villa's followers, then he must have undergone a policy change of epic proportions if he is now considering McLeish.
McLeish is, or at least was, regarded with huge affection at St. Andrews after bringing Birmingham their first major trophy in 47 years when they beat Arsenal in the Carling Cup Final at Wembley in February - and his standing was not greatly damaged by their subsequent relegation.
Now the 52-year-old Scot, a popular and affable figure but also a strong and resolute character, risks becoming a villain on both halves of the city's footballing divide should he eventually pitch up at Villa Park.
Within hours of the Villa connection emerging, an "Aston Villa Supporters - We Don't Want Alex McLeish" Facebook page had attracted more than 5,000 names and the front page of Monday's Birmingham Mail carried the headline: "McLeish: Blues AND Villa fans outraged."
McLeish took charge of Birmingham in November 2007. Pic: Reuters.
And yet McLeish, like the unfortunate McClaren who paid a heavy price for sins in a previous coaching life despite winning the Carling Cup and reaching the Europa League Final with Middlesbrough and winning Eredivisie with FC Twente, has much to recommend him to Villa.
A success in Scotland with Rangers and with the national side, McLeish was involved in two relegations at Birmingham but also had that glory day at Wembley and guided them to ninth place in the Premier League after winning promotion.
McLeish has the credentials but will an adverse response and the political implications of pursuing the manager who left the footballing enemy amid acrimony prove too toxic for Lerner?
Former England manager Graham Taylor, who had two spells in charge at Villa, told me: "I think Alex is strong enough to handle it but no manager has ever gone between the clubs in one move and it is a big switch to take that step across the city.
"I think Alex has the strength of character but it won't be easy for him. He has a hardness about him. It would be difficult though, because many Villa fans would not want a Birmingham man as their manager and many Birmingham supporters might see him as a traitor. He is a strong man though, and I think he could cope with that.
"As someone who managed Villa I do recognise there is some feeling between the clubs. Ron Saunders joined Birmingham after leaving Villa but not directly and in those days you didn't have what you have now such as internet sites and message boards, text messaging and radio phone-ins. The supporters' voices are heard and reported upon."
When Taylor went back into management at Wolves following his spell with England there was a suggestion he was facing hostility from fans who did not want him in charge.
He recalls: "There was some claims in the written media that there were supporters against my appointment. I spoke to the Wolves secretary Keith Pearson and told him to keep the address of anyone who wrote in and complained and the details of anyone who rang in and we would meet them.
"We did that and there were 37 who complained and 32 who came to the meeting - and it was all really nice."
McLeish is likely to have to face a greater strength of feeling should he walk into Villa Park as manager, with some supporters already insisting the notion is a non-starter.
Jonathan Fear, a long-established and respected spokesman for Villa supporters and editor of the "Vital Villa" website and forum, told me: "In my book the appointment of Alex McLeish is an absolute impossibility. I do not believe the board of Aston Villa, who I have a lot of respect for, would do this to us.
"It's just one of those things that could not be done. I also think Alex McLeish would be ill-advised to take the job because he would be upsetting an awful lot of fans of both Blues and Villa. The idea has already spread panic and alarm on forums and there is a Facebook page. I just don't see it happening.
"You can't expect a board of directors to take on board all the moans of supporters but lots of very, very moderate and mature fans that I know share my view that this is an appointment that just cannot happen."
It remains to be seen whether McLeish is the man lined up for Villa, while McClaren - also the target for dissatisfaction - has since been appointed at Nottingham Forest.
McClaren has had to renew his career after his reputation was damaged with England. Taylor suffered in similar fashion but once more became a revered club manager, and he has sympathy.
He said: "Steve was deemed good enough to manage his country and then suddenly he is deemed by some people not to be good enough to manage Aston Villa, even though he won a trophy at Middlesbrough and then went away after England and won the title at FC Twente.
"I think that is a very harsh on him and I happen to think Nottingham Forest have done very well with their choice of new manager."
If Lerner is to entrust Villa's future to McLeish, he has much persuading to do and the Scot will need all the mental toughness he has shown as player and manager to ride out the storm.