The Scot goes to the City Ground with a reputation for playing dour football with not many goals
The problem with talking about appointing "iconic names" and "the best in the business" – which was the language Nottingham Forest's Kuwaiti owners were using when they took over the club in the summer – is that the potential for anti-climax is huge. Yet if there were a sense of deflation among Forest supporters when Sean O'Driscoll was named as the club's new manager in July, it was nothing compared with the disappointment, and in some cases anger, many fans felt when Alex McLeish was confirmed as his successor.
First things first: McLeish is a decent man. He is intelligent, courteous and down-to-earth; the sort of person that it is easy to warm to when in his company. The problem, though, is that when it comes to what happens on the pitch – which is what supporters really care about – his teams have a reputation for playing dour and unattractive football.
To put some flesh on the bone, even when Birmingham won promotion from the Championship in 2009 – an achievement that Fawaz Al-Hasawi, Forest's chairman and co-owner, highlighted in his statement announcing McLeish's appointment – it was painful to watch and goals were in short supply.
Birmingham scored 54 in 46 matches that season, which was fewer than Norwich City, who finished third from bottom and were relegated. The following campaign Birmingham secured a highly creditable ninth spot in the Premier League – the club's highest top-flight finish in 51 years – but registered only 38 goals in 38 games.
In 2010-11, when Birmingham won the League Cup under McLeish, which was no mean feat, they were relegated from the Premier League with a record of 37 goals from 38 games. Last season, when Villa finished two points above the relegation zone, it was the same tally again.
Villa supporters, whose patience was always going to be short because of McLeish's hugely controversial switch from Birmingham, refused to accept what they were seeing and the former Scotland manager's position became untenable before his inevitable sacking at the end of the season.
Although the backdrop will be different at the City Ground, the reality is that Forest are a football club with a rich tradition of playing attractive football. The days of winning the league title and back-to-back European Cups under Old Big 'Ead are long gone and will almost certainly never return but foundations were laid during that glorious era that mean Forest supporters expect to see the team play in a certain way, which is why O'Driscoll, with his long-established attacking principles, seemed like a much better fit than McLeish.
McLeish, for all we know, has reviewed his approach during his time out of the game and will come back with a more expansive style of play that provides more entertainment, more chances and more goals. The proof will be in the pudding, starting with tomorrow's home game against Crystal Palace.
In the brief statement he made on the Forest website McLeish talked about feeling "refreshed" after seven months away from football, which was clearly a break he badly needed after his disastrous time at Villa when, it should be noted, he handled all the criticism that came his way – and some of it was particularly brutal, especially in the final weeks of the season – in a dignified manner.
It was hard to see when and where he would get another crack at English football after that experience but Forest's new owners identified McLeish as the man to restore the club to the Premier League for the first time since 1999. The ruthless way in which O'Driscoll was dismissed, only hours after overseeing a 4-2 home win over Leeds United that lifted Forest to eighth place and within a point of the play-offs, would have deterred plenty of potential candidates but McLeish was keen to return to management and, on the face of it, has little to lose.
It can only be assumed that Forest's owners have been more up front about their expectations than they were with O'Driscoll, who started off on the basis that he was working to what the Al-Hasawi family described as a "three-to-five-year business plan", only to be told in the week prior to his departure that promotion was the minimum requirement this season.
If that is achieved under McLeish, Forest fans may wonder what all the fuss was about and the club's owners will feel vindicated. At the moment, though, that day seems a long way off.