Leeds United nostalgia: The highs and lows of life under O’Leary

David O'Leary.

David O'Leary.

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When David O’Leary arrived at Elland Road, it was as a defender, a championship winning one.

When he left it was as a manager, a well-respected one, leaving somewhat to the bemusement of the fans.

The years haven’t been kind to O’Leary’s time at Leeds, and in hindsight the madness that engulfed the latter stages of his time in charge have done a lot to cancel out the good that he did in the beginning.

A reminder, therefore, of where Leeds were when he took charge: back in Europe for the first time in six years, then manager George Graham decided to take the Spurs job and abandon his post.

O’Leary, then assistant, was put in temporary charge with Martin O’Neill seemingly guaranteed to get the job. Suddenly that deal fell through and O’Leary was elevated to the hot seat.

Preaching a brand of high intensity attacking football, O’Leary promoted several youth players from the club’s increasingly impressive academy at Thorp Arch.

They would ultimately make up the majority of the side, the likes of Jonathan Woodgate, Alan Smith, and Harry Kewell immediately fitting into a team that seemed likely to push for honours as time went by. The end of O’Leary’s first season in charge saw O’Leary’s Babies finish fourth and qualify for the UEFA Cup.

He’d clearly established himself in the role, and the next year was even better than his first, as his side finished third and reached the semi-finals of the UEFA Cup.

In the process, Leeds qualified for the Champions League, a European campaign that is still spoken about to this day.

Leeds would progress past giants of world football, reaching the semi-final stage before being eliminated by Valencia.

There can be no doubt that this was the high point of O’Leary’s managerial career.

The next season started well, with Leeds top at Christmas.

They had missed out on the Champions League the year prior, but looked set to qualify, at the least.

Then disaster struck, mainly of O’Leary’s making.

Lee Bowyer and Woodgate were infamously on trial at this point, and to an extent their problems had served to unite the club and dressing room – Bowyer was playing the best football of his life.

O’Leary, in a decision that could be called questionable at the time and unreasonable in retrospect, decided to release an autobiography titled Leeds United on Trial.

Unsurprisingly, the dressing room fell to pieces.

After New Year’s Day, despite the addition of genuine talent like Robbie Fowler, Leeds won only seven games in the league.

They slumped from first to fifth, missing out on the Champions League and the riches that came with it.

This failure meant Leeds weren’t able to meet the financial obligations that their board had agreed to on the assumption that they would manage Champions League football – and the oft-mentioned collapse began.

O’Leary was soon dismissed from his duties and replaced by Terry Venables, who was unable to stop the rot.

O’Leary then went on to manage Aston Villa, where he struggled, before his latest role, an unsuccessful spell at Al-Alhi in Dubai.