Tag Archives: Sir Alex Ferguson

Taken From Us 25 Years Ago Today: Revie, The Don of Elland Road – by Rob Atkinson

The Don - the Greatest

The Don – the Greatest

They say that great players don’t always make great managers, and Bobby Charlton is a stand-out example of that essential truth.  His brother Jack, by common consent not anything like the player Bobby was, but ten times the bloke, was by far the more successful manager.  Then again – he learned from the best.

And they will twist the argument around to show that average players can make great managers. We’re usually invited by a brainwashed and indoctrinated media to take Alex Ferguson as an example of this; my own choice would be Arsene Wenger, a deeply average player but a highly superior coach, tactician and innovator who made a significant dent in the Man U monopoly of the Premier League – despite the vast off-field advantages of the Salford club. Remember Wenger’s “Invincibles”?  There is also, of course, Jose Mourinho – and many others who pulled up no trees as players, but blossomed into legendary managers.

But there are a select few examples of truly great players who went on to be truly great managers – the likes of Busby and Dalglish, for instance – and I will argue passionately to my last breath that the best of the best was Donald George Revie, who died of Motor Neurone Disease 25 years ago today.

Don Revie was an innovative, thinking footballer, the pivot of the famous “Revie Plan” at Manchester City when he was the first to exploit deep-lying centre-forward play to great effect as City hit the heights in the mid to late fifties. He was instrumental in the Wembley defeat of Birmingham City in the FA Cup Final of 1956, and also helped restore English pride after two batterings by Hungary – the Magnificent Magyars having trounced England 6-3 at Wembley and 7-1 in Budapest. Revie’s adapted attacking role helped the National team annihilate Scotland 7-2 and his reputation was made as a selfless team player who was adept at making the ball do the work while team-mates found space as he dropped deep, baffling the defences of the time.

Revie was clearly a thinker, and developed very definite ideas about the game during his playing career, ideas he would later put into practice to devastating effect as a club manager. It is undeniable that, during his thirteen years in charge at Leeds, he elevated them from simply nowhere in the game to its very pinnacle, preaching togetherness and the team ethic above all else. Respected judges within the game have described the football played by Leeds at their peak as unmatched, before or since. In the eyes of many, that Leeds United team were the finest English side ever, a unit of grisly efficiency and teak-hardness yet capable of football which was outstandingly, breathtakingly beautiful, intricate in its conception and build-up, devastating in its effect.

Here is the scale of Revie’s achievement: in an era before the advent of lavish sponsorship and advanced commercial operations, he built a club from the ground upwards – a club with an apathetic support, which had hardly two ha’pennies to rub together, and whose prime asset was a group of raw but promising youngsters. The way that Revie nurtured those youngsters, moulding them into a team of supreme talent and majestic ability, is the stuff of legend. In some cases, he had to ward off the threats of homesickness: a young Billy Bremner was determined to go home to his native Scotland and Revie arranged for his girlfriend to move to Leeds, helping the lad settle down. Sometimes he had to adapt a player from one position to another – Terry Cooper was an indifferent winger who was made into a world-class overlapping full-back. Examples of his inspirational and man-management skills are many; he wrote the modern managerial manual from scratch.

Revie raised almost an entire squad from the junior ranks through to full international status, but he also had an unerring eye for a transfer market bargain. He took Bobby Collins from Everton, and saw the diminutive veteran midfielder produce the best form of his career. He lured a disaffected John Giles from Old Trafford where he was an under-rated performer. Giles swore that he would “haunt” Matt Busby, the manager who let him go, and Revie enabled this vow to be realised, converting Giles to a more central role after the end of Collins’ first team career. Giles and Bremner would form an almost telepathic central midfield partnership for Leeds, carrying all before them over the muddy battlefields of Division One. Revie later described his recruitment of Giles from Man U as “robbery with violence”.

As the sixties wore on, the Don would add Mick Jones and Allan Clarke to his formidable squad while it grew up together in a family atmosphere at Elland Road. Rarely if ever before or since can a manager have been so involved in his team’s welfare and well-being, no mere tracksuit manager this. There would be flowers and chocolates when a girlfriend or wife celebrated a birthday, a listening ear and helping hand whenever problems threatened to affect a player’s form. Revie was a father figure to his players for over a decade, forming a bond of mutual loyalty and respect that still sets the standard for enlightened management today.

Don Revie has been described in scornful terms by the ignorant, as a dossier-obsessed and over-superstitious manager by some people of insight and judgement, and as simply the best by his players who still survive from that amazing period of Leeds United’s dominance at home and abroad. He was perhaps too reliant on lucky suits and the lifting of gypsy curses, and other such supernatural preoccupations. He could maybe have let his team “off the leash” a little earlier than he did – when given full rein, they were next door to unstoppable. But it’s hard to hold the caution and superstition of the man against him; this was a time unlike today when livelihoods depended on a bounce of the ball, when results mattered in a bread and butter way. There were no cossetted millionaires then, no examples of young men who could pack it all in tomorrow and live in luxury for the rest of their lives. It all meant so much more in those days and the word “pressure” had real resonance.

The modern coaches have greats among their number, there’s no doubt about that. It would be invidious to single out names; after all, the media in a misguided fit of uncritical and commercially-motivated hero-worship have been busily engaged for most of the last three decades in dubbing “S’ralex” as the greatest ever. But the legend that is Don Revie can sit comfortably on his laurels, the man who – more than any other – took a sow’s ear of a football club and made of it a purse of the very finest silk which yet concealed a core of Yorkshire steel.

Donald George Revie (1927 – 1989) – Simply The Best.

The Worst Man U Manager Ever?

I’m not inviting nominations here.  I have but one candidate for this title, a man whose personal qualities and actions during his period of tenure put him, I would argue, clear ahead of the field as the worst Old Trafford boss of all time.

Ladies and gentlemen, I give you: Sir Alex Ferguson.

Now, let’s not be simplistic about this.  The worth of a football manager – who, let’s not forget, carries the responsibility for how his club is perceived by friends and foes alike across the globe – cannot be measured by a mere count-up of baubles won.  What is the standing of the Football Club when he arrives?  How will he leave that Club when he finally clears his office?

In Ferguson’s case, the answer is glaringly obvious.  He has presided over the most horrendous degradation of a football club’s standing and image that I can bring to mind.  Manchester United, thanks almost entirely to the stewardship of Sir Matt Busby, was once upon a time the Football Club most closely associated with honour, dignity and The Way Things Should Be Done.  Only Arsenal, and later Liverpool would come anywhere close to matching the standards set by Sir Matt.

Busby did not have it easy.  He arrived at a bombed-out Old Trafford in 1945, with a history as a Manchester City and Liverpool star behind him.  This was hardly calculated to endear him to the devotees on the Stretford End.  He also had to contend with the slightly shady influence of the ruling Edwards family over the club, and of course he suffered hideous personal injuries in the Munich air disaster, as well as losing the core of his second great team.  Against this backdrop, he created a club that was known as “everyone’s second favourite team”, and beloved of their own massive following.

Looking back, it is sad to see how the legacy of Sir Matt Busby has been squandered.  Manchester United these days are perhaps the most hated brand – I use the word advisedly – in the sporting world.  Given the amount of trophies won under Ferguson’s ruthless management, it would be easy to ascribe this to envy.  But there have been successful, dominant clubs before, and none have attracted quite the same level of opprobrium.

The Ferguson Factor is the difference here.  Busby and Ferguson were both at the helm long enough to be completely identifiable with the club they represented.  Busby stood for dignity and respect, Ferguson stands for arrogance and intimidation.  His most recent rant is symptomatic of this.  A playground taunt whereby he is manager of the most famous club in the world, and his opposite number is at “a wee club in the north-east”.

The small-mindedness of such language is mind-boggling in such a major sporting figure, and Ferguson has plenty of form in this regard.  His club suffers more with every such outburst, and for all their fans claim they don’t care as long as the trophies roll in, I beg leave to doubt this.  We all need to be loved, respected, admired.  Manchester United has little of this now, outside of its own rabid support, but there was a time when the club was a byword for affection and respect among football lovers everywhere.  This is the scale of the downfall; this is the measure of the negative effect of Ferguson’s reign.

Sir Alex Ferguson – the original Knight you wouldn’t send a dog out on.  J’accuse.