Alex McLeish has said he is ‘certain’ Sebastian Larsson will not leave Birmingham City before the transfer window closes and will be fully committed to helping Blues return to the Premier League.
Larsson broke his silence earlier this week in a Swedish national newspaper to talk about his desire to leave St Andrew’s for a Premier League club, and the Sweden international midfielder was certainly not at his best during last Saturday’s 1-0 victory over Sheffield United.
Blackburn Rovers and Newcastle United are interested in signing the 23-year-old but Birmingham have blocked any attempts to prize their player of the season away and chairman David Gold has even said Larsson would be allowed to leave this season ‘over my dead body’.
Manager McLeish is equally confident, not only that he will retain one of his most influential players, but that Larsson will return to his committed best.
“You can never tell 100 per cent in football but I think it will be a certainty he will be staying, at least for this season,” McLeish said. “I didn’t think he was at his best at the weekend but I saw a different Larsson in training on Tuesday. He is too proud a guy and too professional to let anything affect him mentally. If he goes out on to that field he will be totally committed to the Birmingham fans and the club.”
McLeish also revealed he had called on the Ghanaian Football Federation to release new signing Quincy Owusu-Abeyie from international duty next week as he bids to regain full fitness.
The Dutch-born 22-year-old, who is on loan from Spartak Moscow, has been called up for a friendly next week against Tanzania but McLeish said both the club and his country would be better served if the player stayed in England.
“We are trying to get him and I have asked the Ghanaian FA if they can leave him out of this one so we can get him top fit, not just for us but for their World Cup qualifying campaign,” McLeish said.
“We feel he would benefit from not travelling next week and we are in discussions, but at the end of the day it is the national coach who makes the decision and if he says he has to go then we can’t stop him.”
Meanwhile, McLeish has been handed a boost for Wednesday night's Carling Cup first-round tie against Wycombe Wanderers at Adams Park.
Central defender Martin Taylor has declared himself fit after picking up a dead leg against the Blades and will partner Liam Ridgewell at the heart of the defence.
Had Taylor not been fit, McLeish would have had to draft in full-back Franck Queudrue as a replacement as Radhi Jaidi and Stephen Kelly are still not fit. Bringing in another defender before the transfer window is now a priority.
McLeish said: “On Sunday Taylor was very sore and stiff, and he could hardly have full movement in his leg but he trained on Tuesday and has declared himself fit, so he is available.
“A couple of days ago it looked like crisis time. We would have called Queudrue back in but I don’t like two lefties at the heart of the defence, with him alongside Ridgewell.
“When I came in January it was an area I identified as needing strengthening. It is still an area I would like to strengthen. We were unfortunate last January that a few things we tried didn’t work out. Hopefully we can do something but only if I feel they can enhance things.
“I am hoping to add one or two players transfer-wise, never mind loan deals, before the end of August.”
Blues head to Adams Park determined to dispel the memory of last season’s shock FA Cup exit at the hands of Huddersfield Town and McLeish will not field a weakened side.
“They came very close to the play-offs last year, and reached the semi-finals two years ago, so it will be a tough challenge,” McLeish said. “The home team will be up for it, facing a side that on paper they should lose to, but we know the cup can throw up all sorts of surprises.
“We were on the end of one last season in the FA Cup at Huddersfield Town and we certainly believe we can make sure that doesn’t happen again.
“We will give 100 per cent in any game, it doesn’t matter what the competition is. I even like to win pre-season friendlies and I think the players have the same attitude. It is human nature that we want to win.
“The cup competitions are something that are close to my heart. I have done well in cups in the past, both as a player and a manager, and I like to think we can do something here at Birmingham.”