Birmingham manager Alex McLeish said Alexander Hleb was ’embarrassed’ after he was left out of the side which recently beat Chelsea.
The Belarusian is at Birmingham on a season-long loan deal, but has failed to impress after arriving at St Andrews with a big reputation.
The former Arsenal and Barcelona playmaker has struggled with injury since returning to England and has also had difficulty fitting into Birmingham’s style of play.
Hleb was dropped from the Birmingham side which shocked Chelsea 1-0 just over a week ago, and McLeish said the midfielder needed to improve his work rate in training if he wanted to return to the side.
“I’ve repeatedly told him that he is not fit enough to start games,” McLeish said.
“He was disappointed not to start against Chelsea. He thought it was a slight and was a bit embarrassed by that.”
“A top player thinks he can just walk into the team – but it doesn’t work like that.”
McLeish is also looking for improvement from six-million-pound signing Nikola Zigic, who is yet to make his mark on the Premier League.
The towering striker is slowly adjusting to English football, but McLeish said the Serb needed to improve his attack on the ball.
“For such a big guy, the aggression is not in his game,” McLeish said. “He is a passionate guy but we’ve tried to put aggression in his game and he is getting better.”
“It is about telling him to attack the ball because in Europe he probably only heads the ball three or four times in a game, and it’s the same with Serbia.”
“He is used to the ball being played on the deck but we want him to become more aggressive.”
Birmingham face arch rivals Aston Villa in the Carling Cup quarter-finals at St Andrews on Wednesday.