Leeds United: Let’s be realistic about O’Leary

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I can’t blame Leeds fans for wanting David O’Leary back, however daft the idea seems.

It was, after all, under O’Leary that we enjoyed our finest years in the (relatively) modern era. Now that it’s almost ten long years since we were last in the Premier League, and twelve since THAT Champions League run, it’s that O’Leary side that represents the best that a sizeable group of our fans have seen, myself included.

As a 23 year old, I don’t remember the great 1991/2 title winning side, and have only hazy memories of seeing the likes of Strachan and McAllister strut their stuff in our midfield. As difficult as it is to admit now, my childhood heroes were the likes of Lee Bowyer and Harry Kewell. It was that O’Leary side that I loved so much, whose posters adorned my walls, who represented all that was good about our club. The gutsy heroism of Radebe, the grit of Batty, the trickery and pace of Kewell, the cool finishing of Viduka. It’s embarrassing, knowing what we do now about the corrosive behaviour in the boardroom, and how so many of those players disgraced themselves after leaving the club.

But my generation still look back on that period with so much fondness. Years of abject performances make us long for that time again, when finishing 4th in the Premier League was deemed a failure.

And it’s not simply nostalgia. Who can blame fans for wanting to relive the better days when there is simply no future vision for the club? We have owners who seem desperate to flog the club a bit at a time, a recently departed manager who kept telling us he wanted to leave, and a bunch of new players accustomed to the nomadic lifestyle of being second-rate journeymen.

How different to how it was under O’Leary. Young players were plucked from the Academy and shone in the first team, complimented by wise old heads like Nigel Martyn. The fans, players and management were all seemingly united in a modern vision of Leeds United, playing exciting, attacking football. We took on the giants of Europe and beat them. Who can forget the last-minute victory against AC Milan or the humbling of Anderlecht?

But we have to take off these rose-tinted glasses. We won’t progress as a club by trying to relive the old days. The great Revie side were thrust into management, one by one, in the 1980s, to try and bring some success back to the club. Bremner, Clarke and Gray, all legends, failed, because of financial mismanagement and no vision for how we moved forward as a club.

And don’t forget O’Leary’s part in our demise. He oversaw a ludicrously imbalanced and bloated squad, signing the likes of Robbie Fowler and Seth Johnson for crazy fees on inflated wages, made increasingly bizarre statements to the press and wrote a book when he should have been concentrating on our stuttering on-field performances.

Not even considering the fact that O’Leary has been out of serious management for seven years, his return would be a bad mistake. We cannot move forward as a club by reliving the past.

Read it here on Spoughts, with lots more of my stuff on Leeds.

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