McLeish v O'Neill: Best of enemies reunite - the Old Firm foes meet again in Birmingham


Respect: Alex McLeish

Respect: Alex McLeish

Birmingham boss Alex McLeish led Rangers from 2001 to 2006

IT'S a unique position to be a manager of the Old Firm and there's only one other person in the world who knows what you are going through.

One of Martin's outstanding characteristics is the strength of his dressing room. He generates respect within every dressing room he has been in.

Funnily enough, I bumped into him on the train when we were both travelling to London. I felt after that it was a shame that we had not socialised more. He's very sharp, very funny and very clever. I can imagine he would make a great friend.

I would think also that with John Robertson and Steve Walford alongside him in that Villa dressing room, they would have a comeback for anything any of their players wanted to say to them.

Let's face it, Martin and Robbo won the European Cup with Nottingham Forest. Twice. You can't put many better medals on the table than that.

I bumped into him at a tribute dinner to Sir Alex Ferguson and he was just the same, good fun.

On that final day in 2005 when we pipped Celtic to the title, it was probably my best day in the game. I'd like to say I wouldn't have wanted it to be at Martin's expense. But I can't. And do you know what? If the boot was on the other foot, he'd say exactly the same.

tale of the tape

Character: Martin O'Neill

Character: Martin O'Neill

Villa boss Martin O'Neill led Celtic from 2000 to 2005

WE HAVE had a lot of battles against one another. I have an immense regard for him. Alex was a formidable foe. And he knows his football. He is a football man.

I didn't play against him. He spent all of his career in Scotland. He gave up the Scotland job to move down here. That is not a decision you take lightly, particularly as he had, from a distance, done pretty well.

It takes a brave man to head into the unknown and to try to immerse yourself in a league that you have no experience of. But he wanted to test himself and it looks like it has done him no harm whatsoever.

I'm sure that trust with his backroom team has helped, too. It helps having familiar faces around you.

Last year, I thought he did brilliantly. Was it an understated achievement bringing Birmingham back into the Premier League? Yes, I think it was, especially considering the circumstances.

Any side who are relegated from the Premier League face massive upheaval.

Then to pull all of that around in a 46-game season was a really great effort. He had to face all sorts of problems and to keep your focus while everything is swirling around you is a difficult job to pull off.

He had an open invitation to visit me at Celtic Park, but I think he realised he'd get the same kind of welcome as the one I would have received at Ibrox!

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