The dark corner into which he retreated when Aston Villa presented him with his jotters has been vacated. Alex McLeish is prepared to face the world of responsibility again.
He has assimilated the past: he either had to come to terms with his own limitations as a football manager, or present an authentic case that he had become another victim of the game's predilection for victory at any cost. Lottery-style bounty is not awarded for guessing the result of his deliberations.McLeish, like Schwarzenegger, has convinced himself that he will be back. This may be sooner rather than the alternative, for he is armed with the kind of messages that club owners love to hear.
Now, I belong to what the younger generation classifies as the Jurassic species, and experience tells me there is something familiar about such exculpation. Yet, there is also something compelling about the presentation of McLeish's case.
Mind you, also weighing formidably in his favour is the incontestable fact that he is a good human being. Football, down the ages, has spawned its fair quota of horrible little managerial twerps, and I have known many of them personally. McLeish rises above their various malignancies. He gives you decency and depth. In return, you want him to succeed,
He has another dimension, however, and it is one that should be raised only with an application of diplomacy. Sod diplomatic relations: they say this man delivers boredom by the bucketload by the way he sets his football teams out.
It wouldn't have helped recently that McLeish's successor, one Paul Lambert, was quoted as saying he wanted to banish the negative playing style from Villa Park. Those words might have been misinterpreted, of course, but you sense their stinging properties have prompted McLeish to come out hands held high, like a bare-knuckle pugilist.
But let's begin with the therapy. I congratulate him on how well he looks and how buoyant he sounds. His response qualifies the interpretation.
"Oh, yeah, the enthusiasm is high but, if you'd talked to me a few months ago, I just wanted to go and lie in a dark corner. Management is draining, no doubt about it. God knows what Coisty's going through? He couldn't have had a harder challenge if he tried in becoming manager of his beloved team.
"We all feel it, every single one of us, from Sir Alex to the guy in the Conference League. When things go against us, it's dark. Anyway, I went away and got a much-needed holiday – I never got one last year – and now Vitamin D is raging through my body again."
Well, a week in the Caymans can have this effect. But you imagine he was raging in another sense when Randy Lerner decided to activate his P45 only 11 months after having hired him from Birmingham City. He responds that there was more realism than rage when it happened.
"I felt that it was best I wasn't there any more because the atmosphere and the ambience wasn't right. It wasn't the right fit. I tried my best, as always, and worked the oracle to keep them in the league. But it was a big challenge to remain compet-itive while reducing wages and selling players [like Ashley Young]."
But hold those thoroughbreds. Hadn't it been a certifiable act to move from City to Villa in the first place? "Yeah, but you'll find some people would have said I'd have been crazy not to take it. Sir Alex [Ferguson] was one of them. I told him it was a mighty challenge and he replied: 'Oh, you cannae turn that down'."
He didn't. But soon, after preventing them from tumbling into the financial abyss of Championship football, he was deemed surplus to requirements. So, we'll mark that down as a bloomer, shall we? Another negative.
"If I had my time over again, I'd still go. There are no regrets, even now. I would have regretted it if I hadn't done it. It would have played on my mind."
So, moving on to the fans: they refrained from lionising the newcomer at the genesis of his reign and indeed awarded him with leper status at the end of it. "Listen, there was always a noisy minority."
But they created such a furore it sounded like a majority. "They did and everyone got a perspective that it was a majority. But I've remained friends with many Villa fans; they told me they weren't kidded by what I had at my disposal to work with. There are guys like that who obviously think about the game and know the vagaries of management."
Time for brass tacks. What about the criticisms of negativity?
"Er, well, I played four forwards every single game and I never told anyone at all to play defensively. I've had superb attacking teams before: the defensive label is pure myth. Sure, I do like my wide men to get back. Just the same with Sir Alex's wide men. He gets them back to make it a six at the back. Brendan Rodgers had a very successful Swansea team last year, but his two wingers were probably the hardest working players in the league."
McLeish is in rollerball mode right now and it would take a giant to stop him. I'm impersonating a pygmy. "Other managers play kind of similar stuff [to me]. I'd cite Moysie [David Moyes] and Roy Hodgson. We all tried to get our teams to play dynamically, but ultimately, these two guys had personnel that were far stronger than mine. If I'd had their teams, it would have been different. So when it didn't come off for me, people started to cast aspersions. But remember what Arsene Wenger said when he was asked what made him a great manager? 'Great players'. We all need them. Anyway, I just felt proud that so many young lads came into our team. Some weren't quite ready, but they showed courage and bottle and finished above teams that were more experienced. No, I can't say that the job I did was all bad. I had to use a lot of experience just to get them over the line.
"I'd heard it said Villa didn't want a sit-uation where they hadn't had a shot for 20 minutes. Listen, I heard Villa's first effort on goal a couple of weeks back came after 60 minutes. Does that tell you that Paul is a bad manager, he's negative, or that he's just not got the personnel?"
Let's stay with the fear factor but adapt it to these dangerous times in which we all live. Did McLeish ever contemplate that his decision to join the reviled rivals might have rebounded on him?
"No, I didn't give it a thought. I felt that people would – I'm just trying to find the right words here – I just didn't think anything of that magnitude could stop me being a football manager."
Is this why managers are worth big wages?
"That's it. They pay good money and, at some stage, you've got to take these punches on the chin, make sure you don't stay down, and get back up quickly. Me? I'm back up already, eager to work again."
And while he waits for the gravy train to appear on the platform, McLeish has his memories: James McFadden's goal for Scotland in France; Aberdeen's debunking of the Real Madrid myth in Gothenburg; his partnership with Willie Miller that made the Old Firm despair. The past, he says, is worth having because it strengthens the mentality, good, bad or indifferent.
Pittodrie, where he spent 17 years, is definitely one of the better memories. "We all looked up to Willie. I definitely admired him and the older players such as Stewart Kennedy. Willie was my room- mate for many years, both with Scotland and Aberdeen. He was the gaffer and I was the apprentice. I mean we don't go and visit each other, but we're still pals and always have had a good relationship."
The demarcation lines weren't always apparent, however. "I remember the two of us had each other by the throat. It was a corner kick and we got in each other's way when trying to stop the ball going into the net. We kinda collided and the two of us grabbed each other. We went in at half time thinking Fergie was going to go off his nut. Instead, he clenched his fist, and said: 'That's the f****** attitude I want in this dressing room'!"
Having glimpsed more than a few moments of McLeish's self esteem, I tell him that so many of his contemporaries seemed to be overloaded with ego. I ask him what part it plays in his life. He tells me he has always been a team player.
"I've never felt I should have a big ego. I played under guys like Sir Alex and I think the humility aspect is very important in life. I always put the team first. God knows how many games I played when I was only 70 or 80% fit. In our day, I'm not sure he actively said it in the dressing room every week, but I know when he became the great leader that he is, he used the words humility and respect in a lot of his speeches. But those are traits I've always had anyway and I think it's important to have them. My role models gave me that."
Your role models? "My mother and father. They talk about having footballers as your role models, but I think it's got to come from your upbringing. My da worked in a shipbuilders; he died at the young age of 43. That was 30 years ago. That was tough, believe me. Sir Alex was still my manager then. I had to support my ma and dig deep and immerse myself in football. Those 30 years have gone just like that: a whirlwind. You wonder where it's gone. But I knew I had to carry on. My old man was a massive football fan: he would have implored me to keep going. You wonder how proud he would have been."
It has been a spirited defence by a man who forged his reputation on spirited defence. Big Eck always believed in keeping the enemy at bay. You suspect he will have plenty of practice soon enough.