Aston Villa Hires McLeish as Third Club Manager in Nine Months

Aston Villa appointed Alex McLeish as manager, five days after he resigned as coach of the Premier League soccer team’s archrival Birmingham.

McLeish, 52, will assume his duties with immediate effect, Villa said in a statement on its website. He becomes the seven-time English champion’s third manager in nine months after Martin O’Neill resigned five days before the start of last season and Gerard Houllier stepped down on June 1 because of heart problems.

“We believe we have appointed the right man for the job,” Villa Chief Executive Officer Paul Faulkner said in the statement. “Alex meets the criteria we set out at the beginning of our search which was based on proven Premier League experience, leadership, a hard-working ethic and, most importantly, a shared vision for Aston Villa.”

Villa interviewed the Scot following his resignation from Birmingham, which came three weeks after the Blues were relegated from England’s elite division. The approach led to a claim from Birmingham three days ago that Villa had breached Premier League rules with a “tap up attempt.”

Birmingham had demanded 5.4 million pounds ($8.7 million) in compensation to cover the remaining two years of McLeish’s contract, the British Broadcasting Corp. reported. The two clubs have agreed a compensation package worth 2 million pounds, the Daily Mail reported today.

Fan Protests

The prospect of McLeish joining from its city rival had prompted some Villa supporters to protest this week. About 500 fans gathered outside the club’s Villa Park stadium two days ago to voice their opposition, while nearly 18,000 people have expressed support for a Facebook page titled “Aston Villa Supporters -- We don’t want Alex McLeish.”

“I know that some of our fans have voiced concerns and I can understand why,” McLeish said. “It will be up to me to convince you that I am the right man to drive the club forward and I intend to give absolutely everything to prove that I can be a success.”

Villa owner Randy Lerner turned his attention to McLeish after Roberto Martinez opted to stay at Wigan last week. Steve McClaren, Rafael Benitez and Mark Hughes were also linked with a move to Villa Park.

McLeish had been at Birmingham since 2007 following previous spells as a manager with Motherwell, Hibernian, Rangers and the Scotland national team.

He’ll be charged with bringing stability to a club that finished nine points above the relegation positions in ninth place last season. Villa won its most recent league championship 30 years ago and its last major trophy was the 1996 League Cup.

Villa will open the 2011-2012 Premier League season at Fulham on Aug. 13, pitting McLeish against Martin Jol, another newly appointed manager. It’s the first time since 2006 that Villa started the campaign on the road.

“Our objective is to compete as strongly as we possibly can,” Faulkner added. “Alex’s vast experience and proven abilities demonstrate clearly that he is a strong leader and an ambitious man and we are looking forward very much to the exciting new season about to start.”

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