In April this year, Al-Ahli of the United Arab Emirates decided to sack their manager after a poor run of form. No-one in England took particular notice, in fact it is likely no-one even knew who their manager was. Any Leeds fan hearing the news would have taken notice however, given the man in question was a certain David O’Leary. It appears he has dropped off the map completely. The job in Dubai was his first since his firing from Aston Villa in 2006, but despite his failure at Villa Park, he will always be remembered for his memorable spell at Leeds. The fans however, are not as appreciative of his leadership as one would expect, especially considering the side reached a Champions League semi-final during his time in charge.
Initially appointed as George Graham’s assistant in 1996, O’Leary inherited the reigns when his mentor left for Spurs. He revitalised the squad, using an academy that produced some of the most talented young players the club has ever seen. Although Howard Wilkinson can be accredited for establishing the setup that led Leeds into their glory years, David O’Leary deserves some recognition for developing those rough diamonds into mature first team stars. Just listing such a fine set of players brings a tear of nostalgia to my eye as the likes of Smith, Woodgate, Bowyer, Kewell, Robinson and Harte brought success to a consistently under-achieving club. In his first year in charge, the side finished fourth and qualified for the UEFA Cup, which brought around a run to the semi-final in 1999/00, before an aggregate defeat to Galatasaray, a game marred by the death of two supporters in Istanbul. Despite the bleak mood surrounding the club, O’Leary steered the team into the Champions League in 2000/01, a season that provides many Leeds fans of our generation with some of their greatest memories, especially that night in the San Siro. The side frequently topped the League the year after in their 2001/02 Premiership campaign but fell away disappointingly, prompting chairman Peter Ridsdale to remove O’Leary from his position.
Many wonder why O’Leary is not heralded as one of the club’ greatest managers after such a successful spell in charge. The fact remains the Irishman is less-than popular at Elland Road, indeed when linked with the job in 2009, his eagerness to re-take control was not replicated by the supporters. Many stand O’Leary alongside Ridsdale in being culpable for the club’s downfall, as his reckless spending is well documented. With so much money spent on players of real high quality like Rio Ferdinand or Robbie Fowler, one can look back on that era and conclude that Leeds should have had a trophy to show for their efforts. Quite frankly, with the calibre of the squad they had,Leeds’s achievements just weren’t good enough. His book ‘Leeds United on Trial,’ referring to Lee Bowyer and Jonathan Woodgate’s off-field issues, caused most anger amongst supporters however, as many felt he was cashing in on the troubles the club suffered, alienating the loyal faithful, not to mention his chairman. For these reason, whilst Leeds fans will always hold a place in their hearts for the start of the new millennium, David O’Leary will never receive such fondness.