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European Qualifiers Group D

Onwards and upwards

Alex McLeish told Goals on Sunday that Aston Villa can make steady progress if they maintain their Premier league status this season.

Last Updated: 21/03/13 at 15:36 Post Comment

The Midlanders lie 17th in the top flight but have pulled three points clear of the relegation zone following back-to-back victories over fellow strugglers Reading and QPR.

Manager Paul Lambert has assembled a youthful squad at Villa Park but Scot McLeish, who left the Birmingham-based side's dugout in May after just one campaign, praised his successor's transfer policy and expects his countryman to keep on improving the club.

"Villa have bought in younger players from lower-league clubs and while it's not easy to come into the Premier League and impress straightaway these guys have played first-team football," said McLeish, who led the club to a 16th-placed finish last term.

"If they can keep their momentum and stay up it can act as a springboard next season and then they can try and phase out some players, get some fresh blood in and enhance the quality of the squad, without damaging the wage structure that (chairman) Randy Lerner has imposed.

"People look at the Villa badge and think you should be up the top of the league, but under the circumstances I think I did a good job, and I don't regret going to one of the best clubs in England, who have a great infrastructure and stadium."

Hassle

McLeish took charge of Championship outfit Nottingham Forest in December but, amid rumours of a fall-out with Qatari owner Fawaz Al-Hasawi, departed the City Ground just 41 days later.

The ex-Rangers and Birmingham boss insisted he did not have a "big bust-up" with Al-Hasawi, but says the board's inability to capture the players he wanted forced him to walk away.

"I had a great feeling when I joined the club and loved the family atmosphere - but it just never worked out between myself and owners, though there was no big bust-up like what has been reported," said McLeish.

"The squad was good but I had some ideas about the direction I wanted to take the club in and wanted to bring in a couple more quality players, but we didn't get over the line with that.

"The owners spend the money and are entitled to do thorough medicals, as they did with George Boyd (whose move from Peterborough collapsed over a failed eye test), but I thought we should have signed him and didn't think we had the right communication levels.

"I realised the project wasn't what I thought it was, and I wasn't prepared to go through the hassle that I've experienced in management before so I left - but they have got momentum under Billy Davies and I see no reason why they can't go up to the Premier League."

Broaden

McLeish was a stalwart of the Aberdeen defence between 1978 and 1994, making 493 league appearances, but he distanced himself from the manager's gig at Pittodrie which will become available in the summer when Craig Brown takes up a directorial role.

However, the 54-year-old lavished praise on both Brown and new Scotland boss Gordon Strachan, whom he feels will bring a spark back into the Hampden Park troop following the tenure of Craig Levein.

On the Aberdeen job, McLeish said: "It's not for me at the moment as I would like to try and get another job in England but I also wouldn't be fazed by taking a job abroad and trying to broaden my horizons.

"However, I got a fantastic education up at Aberdeen and worked with some great people and I think it's a great move to put Brown upstairs because he is a real football man."

On Strachan, erstwhile Scotland boss McLeish added: "It's the right time in Gordon 's career; he has certainly got the passion and I think he is the guy to get a little bit more out the players than Craig did.

"Some of our players who put in good performances in the Premier League have not lived up to their potential yet in a Scotland jersey but Gordon's motivation could change that."

Hit the video above for Alex's views, and those of his former Aberdeen team-mate Eric Black, on how Scottish football can improve.

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