Aston Villa were meeting managerial target Alex McLeish at a secret location in London today, as their bitter battle with the Scot’s former club Birmingham continued.
Press Association Sport understands that City are talking to their lawyers to decide what course of action to pursue against Villa, with McLeish having resigned from his post with them via email on Sunday and then opening talks with their fierce rivals.
Villa remain confident McLeish will still become Gerard Houllier’s successor - despite the protests from some sections of their fans – and he could be unveiled before the weekend.
But Blues officials were meeting with their legal representatives at St Andrew’s today to see how best to combat Villa’s plans.
They announced their intention to lodge a complain with the Premier League after believing Villa were guilty of “tapping up” McLeish although this has still to be firmed up.
Villa believe McLeish is a “free agent” but may be reflecting on an overall £20m managerial outlay if he puts pen to paper on a four-year contract.
First Villa had to reach agreement with former manager Martin O’Neill who claimed constructive dismissal after parting company with the club last summer.
Then Villa thrashed out a financial package for O’Neill’s replacement Houllier who ended his Villa reign two weeks ago because of concerns over his health.
Birmingham are also looking for £5.4m compensation to cover the remaining two years of McLeish’s contract and have yet to formally accept his resignation.
In addition Villa may have to compensate Blues should McLeish’s backroom team of coaches Peter Grant as well as Andy and Dave Watson follow him out of St Andrew’s and be reunited with their former boss.
Then McLeish’s own contract with Villa would be worth in the region of £2m a year at a conservative estimate.
But Villa owner Randy Lerner believes McLeish is the right man to revive Villa’s fortunes despite the backlash from some sections of the club’s supporters.
A protest has been planned by some of them at Villa Park later today while a spray-painted message reading, ’Bluenose scum not welcome‘ was quickly removed from the wall outside the club’s Bodymoor Heath training ground.
The Scot is a tough character and knows how high emotions can run between rival fans from his spell in Glasgow in charge of Rangers.
He also witnessed the unpalatable scenes when Blues fans stormed the pitch to confront Villa supporters after the Carling Cup quarter-final between the clubs last season.
Alan Curbishley was playing for Birmingham when Ron Saunders moved from Villa to take charge of Blues nearly 30 years ago and is unsurprised feelings are running high.
He told Sky Sports: “When Ron Saunders went from Villa to Birmingham there was uproar. I can understand the furore that is going to happen if Alex McLeish goes to Villa.
“I think people outside of the city of Birmingham don’t understand the rivalry between the two clubs. It is massive.
“Perhaps Alex, if he does go to Villa, has not thought that bit out and it is a big situation he is going into. If it does happen, there will be some tricky times ahead.”
But Lerner has noted the success McLeish has brought to Blues during the past three years despite being relegated last month.
He guided them to promotion in his first full season, a highest-ever top-division placing of ninth two years ago and then the Carling Cup in February - their first major trophy for nearly 50 years.