Birmingham City acting chairman Peter Pannu has hit out at Aston Villa over their interest in Alex McLeish, and insisted the relegated club will demand full compensation of £5.4 million if he moves across the city.
McLeish walked out on Birmingham on Sunday, three weeks to the day since Blues were relegated on the last day of the season with defeat at Tottenham Hotspur.
Birmingham immediately suspected that Villa would move to appoint McLeish as their search for a manager to replace the departed Gerard Houllier goes on. And a furious Pannu did not mince his words in criticising their bitter rivals.
Pannu said: "I got an email from Aston Villa, finally replying to all of our queries. As expected, their legal department said 'now Alex McLeish is a free agent having resigned, we're free to speak to him'. This confirms all suspicions. This shows what has happened.
"Within the first year he (McLeish), or the club who sign him, have to compensate us at £5.4 million. The first year expires on June 30. The second year starts July 1, when the compensation fee is £3million.
"The urgency of the whole thing, with this email from Aston Villa, shows they can't even wait 17 days when the compensation is lower. It shows what this is all about.
"Because of this, what option is left to Alex McLeish and his advisers? To make allegations against Carson Yeung, against the board, for interference or whatever excuse to show constructive dismissal.
"I'll be seeking an injunction preventing Villa from hiring him. I'll be reporting what's happened to the Premier League. This is like conspiracy to defraud.
"It's borderline criminal. That's how strong I'll put it.''
McLeish and the regime of owner Carson Yeung has always had the air of an unhappy marriage, and despite being backed publically by the board after relegation McLeish is expected to pursue the case for constructive dismissal against the St Andrew's club.
But news of Randy Lerner's reported interest in McLeish has not gone down with the Villa fans, with some claiming they would not return to Villa Park with McLeish in charge.
Jonathan Fear, editor of the Vital Villa fans' website, said: "I would fear for the atmosphere and attendances at Villa Park if Alex McLeish is appointed manager. I've got friends who are adamant they will return their season tickets if McLeish is appointed.
"He is a tough bloke but no matter how thick skinned you are, it will be a tough sell for him to win over the Villa fans. It is not just because he was Birmingham manager but because of his style of play. Even some Blues fans have said to me they didn't want to watch that type of football anymore.
"This board at Villa have been very good and they want the right man for the job. They are honest, decent people running the club. But it will be difficult for McLeish to win over the fans even if Villa are winning. It is a slap in the face of Blues fans and has not pleased the Villa fans.''
Birmingham are eager to make an appointment as quickly as possible as they have to prepare for a Europa League campaign in addition to trying to gain promotion from the Championship.
Pannu said: "I am discussing the situation with Carson and we hope to install the new man as soon as possible. There are at least six (candidates) on the radar.''
Former Newcastle boss Hughton is the number one choice of Birmingham fans in a poll conducted by the Birmingham Mail. Roberto Di Matteo and Gianfranco Zola are also free agents.
League Managers Association chief executive Richard Bevan believes McLeish would be a success as manager of Villa.
"I've spoken to Alex a number of times over recent weeks. I would expect a manager of Alex's reputation, his experience and his success in the time he's been a manager since 1994, when he's out of work to be offered a number of jobs,'' Bevan told Sky Sports News.
"When a manager is out of work he'll look to see which job will suit him. The opportunities don't come around that often. Working in the Premier League is a goal of coaches and managers all around the world.
"If he was to go to Aston Villa or any other club I'm sure that somebody of Alex's experience and reputation will succeed, he will deliver and that's what fans are going to want, to get back up the league to where Martin O'Neill had them for three or four years.''
Bevan has called for calm, with McLeish's decision to quit his St Andrew's post sparking anger among Birmingham fans and concern among Villa supporters who fear he may not be the right man for their club, having taken Blues down from the Premier League last season.
Bevan said: "There are always, particularly with social media, going to be fans who are going to be unhappy about particular moves.
"If you go back you've got the likes of Ron Saunders who went from Villa to Birmingham and actually on to West Brom, and George Graham who went from Arsenal to Spurs. You can find many examples.
"This time when perhaps people should just calm down a bit, everyone's a little bit fraught, the reality is can the manager whoever that may be, can he deliver results, can he be given time, can he be given the right budget to achieve the goals?''
Bevan defended McLeish's right to resign by email, suggesting that was common practice and saying the LMA have "no issue with that whatsoever''.