McLeish urges Hleb to prove worth
Birmingham boss Alex McLeish has urged Alexander Hleb "to show what he's capable of" after Blues fans reacted angrily to comments from the midfielder suggesting he would welcome a return to former club Arsenal.
Hleb sparks Birmingham fury
Hleb, 29, has struggled to impress at St Andrew's since McLeish snapped him up on loan from Barcelona in August, and his latest remarks have further failed to endear him to the Birmingham supporters.
Speaking to ESPN before his side's 3-0 home defeat to Arsenal on Saturday, Hleb talked fondly about his time with the Gunners before revealing his frustration with Birmingham's style of football and saying that he would love to return to Emirates Stadium.
"[Since] I left [Arsenal] nothing happened and this may be a point to take me back," Hleb told ESPN. "Birmingham cannot play like Arsenal or Manchester, our game is to kick the ball up front and fight.
"This is of course difficult for me - this is not the game that I like. Sometimes I don't take the ball for five minutes but it is okay and I fight for this club now."
The Belarus captain also described his decision to leave Arsenal for Barcelona in 2007 as a mistake, saying that he would not have swapped Emirates Stadium for Camp Nou had he known how things would turn out, before joking at the end of the interview that the Birmingham shirt behind him should be replaced with a Gunners one.
His comments have caused much consternation among Blues fans and McLeish believes that while Hleb is entitled to aim for a return to the highest level, he should first focus on regaining his form with his current side.
"He obviously wants to play at the top level and Arsenal are top level," McLeish was quoted as saying by the Mirror. "But he's got a job to do here, it's time for Alex to show in the second half of the season to show what he's really capable of.
"He came here half-fit, got an injury and I put him in the team ahead of last week's game against Manchester United ahead of schedule. He really should've been doing another week's training. But I've thrown him in because we need a player of his calibre to help us out.
"He says he could've started against Arsenal but I trust my medical staff. We work closely in terms of overall fitness and plus the training guide tells you he's not quite at the level to make an impact. We need him to make an impact from start to finish, if he buys into that, he's a big asset."
Meanwhile, McLeish has refused to comment on suggestions that midfielder Lee Bowyer could be set for a lengthy suspension having been caught on camera in two contentious incidents involving Bacary Sagna on Saturday.
"What is the situation with Bowyer? It is pending. There is nothing I can say," McLeish said. "It is not appropriate for me to comment on it when nothing has been done by the FA and the referee is looking at it again.
"I've seen the incident but I can't comment on it. It is inappropriate. It is all hypothetical. We need to wait and see what the verdict is."