ALEX McLeish wasn't answering his phone yesterday. No returned messages, no texts, no nothing from Big Eck who is currently on holiday having chosen to avoid the heat at Birmingham City by sitting in the shade of a Corsican beach. Maybe he had the phone off.
Or maybe it had been cut off. Let's face it, Peter Pannu, the thunderously indignant acting chairman at St Andrew's, has already compared McLeish's decision to resign as akin to "conspiracy to defraud" and "borderline criminal" while also banging on about lawyers and injunctions and McLeish's "bullshit excuses". Pannu says it's about time that some discipline was instilled into football. "I am not a person who gets pushed about," he has raged
Considering all that, it wouldn't be much of a surprise if a heavy mob was flown from St Andrew's to Corsica to personally remove Eck's company phone and fling it in the Mediterranean. So no comment from McLeish, but plenty from the furious Mr Pannu.
In this business there are certain stories that make your antennae twitch - and this is one of them. Last night, Richard Bevan, the chief executive of the League Managers Association, spoke up for McLeish, but even before his contribution it was obvious Birmingham's version of events was open to challenge. And here is that Birmingham version: McLeish got the club relegated but was backed to the hilt by Carson Yeung, the owner. McLeish was told that he wouldn't lose any of his big-name players and that he could recruit new players to boost their promotion bid, that the club had faith in him to get them back in the big league at the first attempt. And then the email arrived. Cold and cynical. No warning. No class. Pannu was abroad trying to sign a player when he heard of McLeish's intentions. The manager was a disgrace. A turncoat. The club had shown loyalty to McLeish but McLeish had thrown it in the face of the fans. He was heading to Villa instead. Pannu was sure of it. How low could the manager go? Deserting Birmingham in their hour of need and hooking up with their greatest rivals on earth. Outrageous!
Two sides to every story, right? Let's revisit this great show of support City supposedly gave McLeish after relegation last month. This is exactly what Pannu said at the time. "The board regrets yesterday's result and subsequent relegation and feels that supporters, who have continued to back us magnificently, have been let down. The club can confirm that manager Alex McLeish's job is safe but that the board will expect him to lead the side back to the Barclays Premier League in the 2011/12 season.
The board will take stock of what went wrong this season despite Carson Yeung's promised injection of 40m - not 80m as the media wrongly assumed - and will closely discuss and implement appropriate procedures to ensure a speedy return to the top flight."
What Pannu appears to be saying here is that unless McLeish got Birmingham straight back into the Premier League then he was going to be sacked. More of a threat than a vote of confidence There was no attempt to put Birmingham's season in context, no allowance given for a cruel run of injuries or for the fact that they had won their first trophy since 1963 only a few months before. Gone was the memory of the previous season when Birmingham completely over-achieved and finished a remarkable ninth.
McLeish has made mistakes, for sure. Some of his signings have been iffy, some of the football his team has played has been sterile. But he'd done enough in his job to warrant a proper show of support at season's end rather than the mealy-mouthed response from Pannu. He also cut McLeish's salary in half. And what other "appropriate procedures" might there be in the background? Pannu stated that no big-name players would be sold but yesterday it was reported that Birmingham are entertaining offers for Craig Gardner, the club's leading scorer last season. It's also widely expected that Scott Dann, Roger Johnson and Ben Foster will be allowed to depart presuming Birmingham get decent offers for them, which they probably will.
McLeish appears convinced that he has a case for constructive dismissal against his old club. Bevan's intervention has shed some light on it. It was a devastating statement that must have embarrassed Pannu. Bevan said: "It is disappointing that Alex appears to have been criticised for sending his formal resignation letter by email, particularly given that one of the issues Alex resigned over was Mr Pannu's sacking of Alex's chief scout, who learned he was to be dismissed when he was copied in on an email from Mr Pannu to one of the club's officals. There were other issues as well, including not being properly consulted on player transfers and making a number of aggressive and seriously undermining communications which ultimately made his position untenable." Bevan added: "Alex decided he had to resign as there has been serious issues for some time between him and the board at Birmingham...Mr Pannu, a senior member of the board, has put into the public domain confidential information contained in Alex's contract. This is without doubt a breach of confidence."
Yesterday, Pannu in a reverse flip young Tom Daley would have been proud of, announced he had "nothing against Alex McLeish". Oh yeah? On Monday he was a borderline criminal and now he is a grand fella? Pannu says McLeish can leave the club "with his blessing", something of a shift from his previous position which had him threatening an injunction.McLeish can leave, says Pannu, as long as the compensation is agreeable. Could this be the nub of the matter? Money. Hard cash. Pannu wants somewhere between 3m and 5.4m in return for his "blessing" for a manager he has criticised and all-but threatened with the sack, for a guy he once put-down for being "no Jose Mourinho". Now, all of a sudden, he is shocked and appalled and severely let-down that McLeish has walked out.
Two sides to every story. And we're taking McLeish's side.