When Euro 2008 kicks off at St Jakob-Park, Basel, today when hosts Switzerland face the Czech Republic, Birmingham City manager Alex McLeish will be forgiven for sitting back and contemplating what might have been.
McLeish was the manager of a Scotland side that came within a whisker of being the British Isles’ only representative in Switzerland and Austria this month. Christian Pannuci’s 90th minute winner at Hampden in November broke the hearts of the Tartan Army and led to McLeish’s decision to seek a new challenge in the Premier League at Blues.
However, following relegation, this summer McLeish finds himself facing a season in the Championship rather than taking on Europe’s elite.
He insists he has no regrets about his decision, but concedes that if Scotland had qualified he would not be at St Andrew’s.
“We came very close and I wouldn’t be here if James McFadden’s chance in the 84th minute against Italy had gone in because we would have been through,” he said. “When I left Scotland I said it could happen (relegation). I freed my mind up that it could happen.
“I looked at the squads and assessed them, and I saw the squads at Wigan, Bolton and Fulham, and I knew they were underachieving.
“They had to pick up points with the squads they had because they were far more experienced than we were, and probably had more strength in depth than we had. I knew it would be a fight to the finish. I was proved right, although I wish I hadn’t been.
“People said I was jumping ship for the Premiership for the money.
“My wages don’t go up when you go into the Championship, and I was aware of that. I still saw the opportunity and the challenge, and I am absolutely determined. Anyone who knows me well and knows my nature knows I am determined to be a success. I have had more success than failure.
“I already have the determination to succeed. I remember negotiating with a chairman a few years ago and he offered me a bonus but I said it wouldn’t make me any more determined because you will still get 100 per cent out of me.
“It is all about getting the best team onto the pitch and the best teams will get back in the Premiership.
The game is all about players. I am the manager and I guide the ship but at the end of the day I don’t have a magic wand. Jose Mourinho and Sir Alex Ferguson could have come in and still not kept the team up.”
McLeish may not have any regrets about swapping international football for the day-to-day grind of life at St Andrew’s, but he does feel he could have done more to save the Blues from relegation by strengthening his squad during the transfer window.
A protracted bid to entice defender Gary Cahill from Aston Villa ended in failure when the player chose Bolton Wanderers over Blues, and a few more targets slipped through his fingers.
“My only regret was we didn’t do enough business in January,” he said. “Two more players would definitely have got us another point and kept us up.
“I spoke to a Bolton fan on holiday and he said Cahill had been outstanding for them when he arrived and he definitely won them six or seven points.
“Those clubs were underachieving when I arrived at Birmingham and changing their managers regalvanised them as well and they started to play a bit, which made it tougher for us.
“Sky TV did a statistic based on the last 19 games and we finished fourth from bottom. That is no consolation but we know that we are going forward.”