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Liverpool and Arsenal set for showdown

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By ESPN Staff

SFA's Smith surprised by McLeish decision

Scottish Football Association chief executive Gordon Smith was surprised that Alex McLeish was lured away by Birmingham.

McLeish was unveiled by the Barclays Premier League strugglers yesterday, less than 24 hours after quitting as Scotland boss.

Smith realised day-to-day involvement with players could attract McLeish back to club football - but had nonetheless hoped he would extend his contract beyond the 2010 World Cup campaign.

He did not therefore expect Birmingham, who sit one point above the Barclays Premier League drop zone, to be the club that snared McLeish.

'I thought we had a chance of persuading Alex to stay, unless the right job came up,' said Smith.

'When there was all the speculation about Birmingham I didn't expect them to be the one to attract Alex.

'I thought that if we got Alex on an extended contract it might mean more of a commitment to him at that stage.

'We would look to improve the contract and extend it. I had spoken to him about that, and basically that was something that was going to be raised at the next board meeting in December.

'I think it's a question for Alex McLeish as to why he thought the Birmingham job is more attractive than the Scotland one.

'Although we're disappointed in it, we can't say he's made a big mistake. He's responsible for his own future.'

Smith was speaking after an SFA board meeting that began as McLeish was being unveiled by his new employers.

At St Andrews, McLeish explained he could not take the risk of waiting for a more established Premier League club to approach him.

'People say `why not wait' for what they call a bigger club - but sometimes the opportunity is not there, and you can wait forever for a chance,' said the 48-year-old.

While the SFA come to terms with the departure of a second manager this year, Smith is adamant they will not lower their sights to ensure the successor to Walter Smith and McLeish does not also walk out well before his contract ends.

'Age will not be a factor,' said the SFA chief.

'We realise that this could happen again to us - but we're looking for a person who can take the team forward rather than the profile being someone who will not be attractive or attracted to teams at a higher level.

'It's just something we have to accept.

'We can produce a stronger contract - that is something we'll be looking at.

'We might have to make it much more difficult for the person to leave. Then again, the other person's lawyers might not like that.'

Smith has been handed the responsibility of drawing up a short-list and heading an interview panel - but he is no rush to appoint the new boss.

'It's not something we should be doing very quickly,' he said.

'The first competitive game will be February or March. We'd like someone in in January.'