Rae: Ex-Aston Villa man McLeish ideal for Sunderland

Alex McLeish.
Alex McLeish.
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ALEX McLEISH should be the next boss of Sunderland, says former Black Cats favourite Alex Rae.

Rae, a midfield star on Wearside from 1996-2001, believes his former manager at Rangers would be the perfect choice to pick up the pieces from the Paolo Di Canio era.

And he insists the ex-Birmingham City and Aston Villa manager is under-rated in this country, saying that any analysis of his record speaks for itself.

“I know Sunderland are taking their time over their next appointment and I think that’s only right,” Rae told the Echo.

“But I hope they are looking at Alex McLeish because, for me, he’s an outstanding manager who has a lot to offer and the great thing for Sunderland is that he’s available at the moment.”

The former Aberdeen stalwart and Scotland international made his managerial name as boss of Rangers from 2001-06, when he won the league title twice, the Scottish Cup twice and the Scottish League Cup three times.

He left Ibrox to manage Scotland, where he recorded the biggest win percentage of any manager to lead the country for 10 games or more.

Then he moved on to Birmingham City, in 2007, where, in four years, he won the club a promotion to the Premier League and also the League Cup – the Blues beating Arsenal in the final in February 2011 for their first major trophy in almost 50 years.

Birmingham’s relegation at the end of that season saw a controversial move to West Midlands rivals Aston Villa and though he kept the Villans in the top flight in 2011/12, the 54-year-old was sacked after a poor run of results and uninspiring performances.

Rae, assistant to Paul Ince at Championship club Blackpool, said: “The whole Villa thing is a bit of a funny one – Big Alex kept them up at a time when they were downsizing like mad under Randy Lerner, offloading or trying to off-load the big earners, and his reward for that was the sack.

“Then Paul Lambert took over, managed the same thing the next season, and was hailed a hero!

“I think, in that situation, Alex suffered from having been a successful manager of Birmingham previously.

“I know he had a relegation against him there, but he also got them promoted and not many managers have managed to get Birmingham a major piece of silverware.

“Looking back, he managed Aston Villa in a very difficult situation with the finances, but he was used to that at Glasgow Rangers – where I came across him as a player.

“People remember Martin O’Neill up in Scotland as one of the great Celtic managers, but Big Alex won just as many trophies as him and while Martin was managing Celtic at a time when they were spending a lot of money, Alex was in charge of Rangers when they were forced to cut back after the Dick Advocaat era.

“Thankfully, he got in some great bargains like Jean-Alain Boumsong and Dado Prso, who brought in big profits, and he gave them success on a relative shoestring.

“So I really rate him in just about every aspect of the job.

“He’s the hardest-working manager I’ve ever worked with and he’s a real man’s man who will get respect from the players.

“I think he’s just the sort of manager Sunderland need at the moment because I think they need someone British, someone no-nonsense and also someone who is very experienced.

“Given Sunderland’s situation, I think the last thing you need is someone who is still learning in many respects and who is inexperienced in the Premier League.”

Former Brighton boss Gus Poyet would fall into that category, but the Uruguayan remains established as the bookies’ firm favourite to take over from Di Canio.

Sunderland have yet to make their mind up over who will succeed Di Canio, with Manchester United first-team coach Rene Meulensteen mentioned in the running as well as Sunderland’s interim head coach, Kevin Ball.

McLeish is currently rated as a 50-1 outsider by the bookies, but the Scot – who has also managed Motherwell, Hibs and Nottingham Forest – has already made it clear in a radio interview shortly after Di Canio’s sacking that the Sunderland job would interest him.

And if the Black Cats do decide to go for a safer pair of hands after the Di Canio era, McLeish would fit that bill.