Just a day after being appointed the new Nottingham Forest manager, Alex McLeish faced the press 24 hours before his first game against Crystal Palace.
How surprised might you be to inherit a Championship club a point off the play-offs?
It’s a terrific opportunity to come to a club of Nottingham Forest’s magnitude. It’s always nice to get a job. Normally if you’re out of work you’re waiting for somebody, maybe, in a bit of difficulty and it’s not the case with this particular job. It looks an absolutely wonderful challenge for me.
It’s all happened very quickly. Did you hear about this in advance?
Whirlwind. Absolute whirlwind. It was a surprise but a very welcome surprise.
What do feel you can achieve here?
We’re one point off the play-offs so we’ve got to try and target getting in to that top six and, ultimately, gunning for the Premier League.
Has that been made very clear to you? Is that something you’ve been told?
I’ve not been told that. What we want to see is Forest mounting a very serious challenge. That will be my goal, working with the team, working with the staff. There’s a good bunch of players there, they play some good football. So if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.
Did you feel you had to drop in to the Championship to start your career again? It must be quite nice to be challenging near the top of the division?
Any of the previous clubs I worked with were fantastic clubs and they were fantastic challenges as well. To be honest, I took those jobs on when they were in a bit of difficulty so the goal was to try and get them in to a position of relative safety. It was a difficult job at Villa last season but it was one that I met head-on and, in the end, it was great to get them over the line despite the catalogue of horrors we had there.
In hindsight, was that an unworkable job for you, coming from Birmingham City?
I don’t regret anything. I don’t think you should regret anything. And I’m hear to talk about Nottingham Forest and I’d like to concentrate on Forest.
How difficult is it for you, if promotion is the aim, to walk in in the middle of a season — you’ve got 22 games to achieve it, albeit in a good position at the moment?
There’s always a difficulty of any challenge that you approach. But I have to get the very best out of the players, which is a manager’s job, and we do have a good bunch of players, there’s some real quality in the dressing room. If they continue to show me that quality and if they show they’re willing to work their socks off for Nottingham Forest then they’ll have a chance of playing in the team, without question.
You’ve had success in the Championship, what does it take to take a team out of the Championship? What’s they key?
The key is to get a succession of winning games. If you can gather as many points as possible and get a lot of wins — the consistency of winning is vital to getting promotion in the Championship. I had that opportunity with Birmingham, we managed to get back at the first time of asking but it wasn’t without its difficulties. But we’d done enough to get over that line and it’s a fantastic opportunity for many clubs, not just Forest, but there are great opportunities for a good number of clubs. Everybody will be bursting to get to the Premier League.
How are you going to ensure you get the fans behind you?
Winning games is something that helps to get fans behind you. It’s not as if I’m Jose Mourinho walking in here and it would be a unanimous decision. I think, at time, you have to realise that some fans might not be with you at the beginning but if we can win games, if the team can produce the football they produced against Leeds in the second-half the other day, I feel there’s no reason we can’t get everybody singing from the same sheet.
You were training with squad earlier, what were your first impressions?
The banter was good, you could see a spring in their step. I think probably due to the confidence they took during the victory in midweek.
It seems January might be important, it’s only a few days away, have you been given any indication of how much, or if any, money there is to be spent improving the squad?
We discussed improving the squad. We will be looking closely at that with the staff and the recruitment side of the club. There’s no doubt we are trying the bolster the squad and make it stronger for the run-in.
I suppose that’s one of the difficulties of coming in so close to January. You might have to make those decisions more quickly than you want to?
Yeah, that’s absolutely spot-on. We’ll have to be doing our homework over the next week or so.
Is there part of you that thinks you can’t bring too many new faces in?
I think we’ll trade carefully. I’m not going to bring in another 10 players per se but we’ll certainly look at certain positions and if we need to reinforce those positions and if we can target a player who can maybe make a big difference in the games ahead then we can’t ignore that.
Have the last seven months been useful to you? Or have you been chomping at the bit since you left Villa?
I wasn’t chomping at the bit. I needed that break but I’ve enjoyed it. I’ve been a professional supporter for the last seven months, I’ve watched a lot of games, including Forest, I’ve been abroad at a few Champions League games. It’s very important that you keep your finger on the pulse and that’s what I’ve done.
The owners want this club in the Premier League, you want to be managing in the Premier League again — there’s quite a nice match there isn’t there?
It’s great when everybody’s together and they have the one goal, and that will be a huge ambition for me this season.
Would you have not dropped down to the Championship if you didn’t believe you could get back in to the Premier League pretty quickly?
It’s not taken in that one decision. I looked at the project the club have in mind and also the fact that they are nearer the top than the bottom. I’ve looked at a couple of offers, I must admit, I didn’t feel were the right challenges for me. The Forest one was.
Can I ask you about your backroom staff. Obviously Jimmy Floyd Hasselbaink and Rob Kelly are here from before Sean O’Driscoll’s period. Will they be staying or are you looking to Peter Grant and Kevin MacDonald? What’s your thoughts?
I don’t plan to make changes. We’ve got some good staff here and I expect Peter Grant to join us.
What is your impression of [the owners] and what can you promise the fans?
When you meet somebody for the first time you obviously get first impressions and mine were very good — it was very positive and they felt I was the right man for the job so that gives you the confidence to take on the job. And the message to the fans is ‘get right behind the team’ and let’s see if they can roar Nottingham Forest to the Premier League.
What can you say to reassure the fans and what have you been promised from the owners?
The only thing I can promise you is that we’ll get the very best out of the players that we have. And we will try and help those players by adding one or two faces, if we can, to mount a serious challenge. The response from the players this morning was excellent. It’s a cruel business when you get in to the coaching and management side of things and the attrition rate for managers and coaches losing their jobs is one of these things. But I said to the players ‘you guys are in the best part of the job, and that is being footballers so don’t waste a minute’. Hopefully we can get the right responses from the guys and psychologically we’ll work with them, as well as physically, and we know that there’s some good quality in the dressing room.
Are you excited about the challenge?
I’m excited about it. Absolutely. It’s one that, as soon I got the phone call, I was really up for the job.