The Ego Has Landed: David O’Leary Back at Leeds United – by Rob Atkinson


O’Leary, and the book that earned him the sack

Amid the muck and bullets of an attritional battle between Leeds United and Norwich City last weekend, word was received that the club was being visited by the Ghost of Seasons Past. Former Whites manager David O’Leary was back at Elland Road, holding court in the Legends Lounge – some unintentional irony there – and dispensing his own particular brand of faux humility to anyone who would listen.

That’s what always got me about O’Leary, even at the height of his success in the post-George Graham period – this tendency of his to peddle a “Love me, I’m just a novice manager doing the best I can” line. Backed by good results from a young and thrilling team, it was an engaging enough act for a while anyway – but any such act, whether it be the blarney of Erin, or just plain old self-serving bullshit, wears thin eventually. In O’Leary’s case, that process of disillusionment was accelerated by his own actions as financial crisis and the Bowyer/Woodgate court case hit the club hard. When the solids hit the air-conditioning, poor David was liberally splattered by the noxious fallout, his strained relationship with local press figures meaning there was precious little sympathy or protection for him there.

O’Leary was quite literally the author of his own misfortune. “United on Trial”, his controversial book in the wake of the long, drawn-out court case, was an ill-judged attempt to dissociate himself from any blame for the storm clouds gathering over Elland Road. Players from a squad he’d previously dubbed his “babies” were callously thrown to the wolves, who had scented blood in LS11, and were voraciously snapping away at the heels of a wounded and foundering giant. It had all looked so good for Leeds in the campaign leading up to the Champions League last four, but the fall from those rarefied heights was precipitous; weak leadership in the boardroom had given O’Leary too free a hand in the transfer market, with results that have become notorious in the history of a club that tried to live the dream but entered instead into a ten year nightmare. So unprecedented was this fall from grace that a new phrase, describing the suicidal self-immolation of any football club, entered the language: “Doing a Leeds”.

O’Leary got the Leeds job at a particularly propitious time; able to build on the foundations laid by the cautious and meticulous approach of George Graham, he also benefited from a crop of youthful talent coming through, the like of which had not been seen at Leeds since the early sixties. It was a recipe for success, requiring only a steady hand at the tiller and a fair share of good luck. Sadly for United, after a bright start to the Irishman’s tenure, neither of these requirements were fulfilled, and the club embarked on a downhill slide that a greased pig would have found hard to emulate.

Despite all of this, some United fans have fond memories of O’Leary – which, when you consider some of the football played and some of the results achieved, is reasonably understandable. But the idyll was deceptive; some of the players grew disillusioned, to say the least, with a manager whose genial demeanour masked what at times was a chilling ruthlessness, allied to a preoccupation with being seen always in the most favourable light. His popularity with certain squad members declined to the point where at least one refused to sign a book for a fan, simply because the manager’s picture featured on the cover. And his attitude towards respected local press members – summed up briefly as “I don’t really need you” was seen as so wilfully arrogant that those press members felt under no obligation to pull their punches when things tuned sour.

Even now, O’Leary will use his characteristic self-effacing delivery to mask what amounts to relentless self-promotion; he’s always after the printing of the legend, untainted by inconvenient facts. In and around his Elland Road appearance last weekend, the former United manager revealed the question he’s most often been asked by Leeds fans since his departure. Predictably, it redounds to his credit – what O’Leary soundbite does not? “It’s ‘When are you coming back to Leeds’“, he revealed, adding that he found such a question “embarrassing really. I’m so privileged that they still remember me”.

Continuing this apparently diffident self-homage, O’Leary gushed “It’s just so nice and I always knew that I had their support, and I appreciate their support even more now. Twenty years and they still remember me – I can’t believe that!”

It’s not that difficult to believe, though. United fans, especially those who don’t habitually sport the rose-tinted glasses of fond recollection, will be unlikely to forget the man who inherited a dressing room of such vast potential and then proceeded to lose it through his own crass and self-serving actions. The answer to the question of “When are you coming back, David?” must surely be “Next time Leeds United needs the spirit of the club shattered almost beyond repair – next time we wish to plunge into a new dark age and threaten our very existence”. It really was as bad as that.

So David, you can quote your admirers all you like – we’re never going to hear the other side of that coin from your self-aggrandising lips. But remember, some of us see you for what you are – and we’re glad and relieved that you’re history now as far as Leeds United is concerned.

42 responses to “The Ego Has Landed: David O’Leary Back at Leeds United – by Rob Atkinson

  1. Graham Atkinson

    Well said 😁


  2. Philip of Spain.

    The man to a T.Great piece Rob!!!


  3. I never liked him as our manager… He
    1) Tried to follow G.Graham to Spurs before Big George told him to **** before he accepted the job
    2) Followed this by getting rid of all George Graham signings (bitter eh?) remember Alfie Haland who was Leeds through and through?
    3) Inherited a team built by Eddie Gray, then had the audacity to bring in Brian Kidd and sideline Eddie!
    4) The above “man”oeuvre was designed to aid his quest to get the Scum managers Job
    5) Signed players we didn’t need for extortionate amounts
    6) Got that off my chest now 🙂


  4. Sacked by Risdale so Odreary could get a few million compo left us with a big smile on his face and loaded while the Club Died


  5. Life is LUFC

    An interview that broke the cringeometer…well said.


  6. a little bit harsh but you make some interesting comments. apparently in the Irish squad, his nickname was “Jack” as in ….”I’m alright Jack” which backs up some of yr views. What’s he doing nowadays ?


  7. Nice one mate,The man has no shame just like the prime minister from that era who also keeps rearing his ugly head. Yes I can still remember you O Leary. I also remember the millions you wasted on mediocrity and crap. I also remember Tha aftermath with bates,gfh,and Cellino.


  8. Spot on. Weak personality and a very poor manager. If only, we had appointed a decent manager when Graham left, then we might have had ten years of success. God, it hurts!!


  9. Michael Foley

    Fergusson got into his head telling him and the world he was bees knees,his ego is terrible,what he done to Eddie Gray was nasty.Dont know who invited him to the legends lounge,in my eyes he is far from a legend


  10. Brilliantly put. Some of his activity behind the scenes was ‘questionable’ at the time as well.

    If you can bring yourself to read United we Fall, there some food for thought about DOL in there regarding transfers etc

    I wonder why he never got another mainstream manager job after Villa…. hmmmm

    Great writing Rob and probably closer to peoples’ opinions than you might’ve expected(?).


    • Thanks Nigel. Very perspicacious of you too – I was expecting some grievous stick for this but, instead, there’s been broad agreement. So far, anyway…


  11. Darran Beveridge

    Completely disagree, he gave youth a chance and then Ridsdale bought him everything even if he didn’t want them and then paid the price for an incompetent chairman, he put Leeds on the map for a while, however Ridsdale has cost us since


    • Life is LUFC

      Excuse me but what planet are you from……..LUFC has been on the map since 1919 and has never missed a day since.


  12. Such a shame that the promise of that squad came to nought. Clubs like Leeds really have to make the most of that sort of talent when it comes along. Yes great Euro nights and high place finishes in the Prem,but no silver wear! Look at Spuds. Their best team in years but winning nowt. Leeds just had the wrong chairman and the wrong manager at that time.


  13. As usual, all full of himself and his own blown-up, self publicity.
    O’Dreary has only had two short term managerial jobs in the last 15 years, so has he been partly living on his huge 10 year contract pay-off from Leeds that Ridsdale blindly handed over to him ?
    It was a 10 year contract that he was foolishly given, wasn’t it Rob or was it an 8 year contract ?
    There was a rumour a few years ago, that he had a house in North Leeds, which was all paid for by Leeds and he was still living there.
    I can’t believe that some Leeds fans still think that O’Dreary is the messiah, when he achieved NOTHING in the trophy cabinet.
    Some deluded people actually believe that the O’Dreary years were more memorable than the Wilko years, which is absolutely crazy, because Wilko delivered when it mattered, by getting Leeds promotion, winning the League Championship, putting three trophies into the trophy cabinet and his talented youth players also won a Youth Cup. Also the got to League Cup Final in 1996, which we’d all rather forget about, sadly.
    O’Dreary fell out with quite a few players and didn’t speak to some players, according to David Batty’s book and even got some players to speak to other players for him.
    One of O’Dreary’s many clueless quotes were – “I can’t babysit my players”, which is what he said when the Bowyer / Woodgate problem was first discovered.
    Another memorable quote was – “Leeds don’t need a new stadium with a capacity any bigger than 45,000, because the Leeds support has never been that big”, which is was he said when the capacity of the new stadium at Skelton Grange was being discussed in 2001.
    As I say, CLUELESS !



    A bit harsh Rob .So you don’t like him ok.Brought some very good players in and gave youth a chance .If Graham was so good why didn’t he give smith Woody etc their chance .He took a chance on Rio for 18m Leeds sold him for 32 m .Brought in Dom Matteo even though he was injured at the time .He saw the potential that Dom had .You say the players didn’t want to play for him .Name me one player that left Leeds after he was sacked that reached the heights that they reached while playing under OLeary .I agree he messed up with his silly Book but I’m not sure it was a sacking offence


  15. Mike Durham

    Compliments of the season Rob…
    As I may have mentioned before via your weekly opus, O’Leary was the man who decided that Frank Lampard wasn’t worth £7m shortly before we paid £11m for what was left of Robbie Fowler ( no disrespect intentended to RF ). In terms of inspirational signings, Diane Abbott couldn’t have been further wide of the mark!!
    D.O.L. has very few friends left in football which is why he has been unemployable for so many years ; it’s a very incestuous workplace and football folk are sick to death of his “Leeds going under wasn’t anything to do with me” attitude.
    Perfect manager for those self-deluded bastards at the cinema of nightmares mind…


  16. Fair play rob. O’leary has a cheek to pop his head up 12 years into the misery he helped create and play the glad you even remember me card. Has the golden goose of leeds finally stopped laying or is he here to pick up his pension. I was at elland road the week we signed seth johnson for 7million and watched him some how cock up a 2yard pass. The writing was on the wall when we signed the scouse pensioners on super inflated wages. Fowler and rush are probably still being paid now.


  17. absolutely spot on. I thought I was the only one who felt he was a self serving, self publicising w*nker!

    In fairness did well for a couple of years with a talented young squad, then replaced Eddie with Kidd and the team stopped playing that beautiful football.

    His book and the timing of it was unforgivable. He betrayed fans and players alike.

    Wow, the relief that others feel the same!


  18. We had some great times under O’Leary which we have yet to get any where near. I think this is a needlessly critical article.


  19. it wasent his fault we had to sell all our best players


    • Would you care to enlarge on that theory? O’Leary was complicit in the buying of expensive players superfluous to the squad. In effect, it was his dream we were living.


  20. Glyn Booth

    Agree fully with everything said. O,Learys biggest achievement was listening to Eddie Gray, as soon as he replaced him it went down hill. In my opinion the team peaked the year before we reached the champions league semi final.


  21. Fascinating perspective Rob. Just discovered your blog. Definitely following!


  22. @StanFMontgomery

    David O’Leary was entirely responsible for our demise the bloke should be allowed nowhere near. What was George Graham thinking about when he left to spurs I guess we knew he was low on principles but had George continued at ER to bring through the youngsters we all know about he would have moulded them to a team of great discipline as he did at arsenal and as some other Scottish bloke of similar ethos did west of the pennies. We would have been a force challenging for a decade


    • I tend to agree. People talk about missing out on glory by getting rid of Clough, but he was never going to do it at Leeds without his mate. George Graham leaving was a much bigger blow, I could see him building a dynasty at Leeds – and Spurs was a silly move for him.


  23. Paul Smith

    I’m sat in a cabin on Tofino beach, BC, Canada in a proper storm….this article brightened my day no-end! O’Leary was a self serving, manipulator and user….a serial ducker and diver. We should have pushed the boat out for Martin O’Neill and took Ridsdale off the cheque signatory list!


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