Birmingham City’s road to recovery and a return to Premier League football gathered pace yesterday when manager Alex McLeish issued a challenge to the rest of the Coca-Cola Championship.
He said he believes that despite the high standard and competitive nature of the division that his side will be the team beat.
Given the parlous state of affairs at St Andrew’s since the club’s hopes for Premier League survival were dashed, McLeish’s words further progress the healing process.
“We will be a big scalp for a lot of other clubs,” said the Blues manager. “It’s not any different from us playing at Arsenal or Manchester United and trying to beat the top teams in the Premier League.
“The Championship is an extremely exciting league and it is very competitive. I have a lot of respect for it.
“When you look at some of the names in there it’s quite frightening, so there are no guarantees for us. “But if I can attract players like [Lee] Carsley to work with the players I already have here then I am confident that we will be a force next season.”
One of those existing quality players is James McFadden, who has been linked with numerous moves away from the club.
However, despite the sniggering speculation, every indication from inside the Blues’ camp suggests that the Scotland international is planning on staying to spearhead the promotion challenge.
McLeish is thinking along those lines.
“I would like to add two or three more players to give me peace of mind,” he said. “There is pressure on every single manager in the world and every football club – but the pressure is a little bit less when you can go into the dugout and put players out on the pitch that you can trust.”
How McLeish goes about bringing those players in remains to be seen, but, as sides in the Championship showed last season – most notably the three teams that secured promotion – some cute use of the loan market can prove a useful approach.
It is something Mcleish is considering. He added: “By sending their players to us, Premier League clubs know that they will be coming into an environment where there will be pressure on them.
“Of course, from our perspective, it’s an opportunity to get a bit of help in such a competitive league and will also allow us to get to know players with an eye to the future.
“We will certainly be willing to use the system if the quality is there.”
Midfielder Carsley, who last played in the Championship in 2001 with Coventry City, echoed his new manager’s thoughts about life in the second tier. He added: “I think the Championship is a division you have to respect.
“We saw this season how competitive it is, with so many of the teams in with a chance of automatic promotion and the play-offs.
“If you think it’s a division of total soccer you can play your way out of, then you’re going to find it very, very tough.
“That’s not to say you can’t play football, West Brom have shown that. But every team seems to be big, strong and hungry.
“You have to be able to match the physicality as well – it’s more physical than the Premier League.
“None of us are going in under any illusions, but I know from speaking to the manager the team will have a great determination to get promoted right away.”
Meanwhile, Sebastien Larsson and Olivier Kapo have been linked with a move to Wigan Athletic to rejoin former manager Steve Bruce.