Strachan, Batty, Cantona, Speed, McAllister and Sgt Wilko. Imre Varadi worked with them all – and there weren’t many dull moments. Leon Wobschall reports.
IMRE VARADI may have missed out on a Division One Championship winning medal with Leeds United to crown their glorious era in the early Nineties, but his memories of his time at Elland Road remain immensely rich.
Varadi’s ports of call in his nomadic professional career are into double figures and while he enjoyed more of a starring role at previous destinations such as Manchester City and Newcastle, his time at Leeds provided a fitting swansong to the big time.
After linking up with Howard Wilkinson for the third time in February 1990, at the age of 30, Varadi provided some cameos to help Leeds over the line to the Division Two title in 1989-90, winning a medal too.
He was also still part of the squad when Leeds lifted the big prize in 1991-92 and while his contributions weren’t plentiful, those times are still vivid.
It was a Leeds dressing room with a surfeit of characters and footballing talent, led admirably on the field by Gordon Strachan and off it by a figure who Varadi believes deserved a lot more credit for his distinguished managerial career in Wilkinson.
There was even a maverick in Monsieur Cantona, who was harnessed adeptly, maybe quite not all of the time though...
Varadi said: “We were on the crest of a wave when we won those championships, although I only played about six games when we won the old first division, so missed out on a medal.
“That would have been nice, but I was still part of it, travelling away everywhere.
“There were sheer characters back then and so different to today. They were all ready to fight, but in the right manner. Big personalities – and that can take you a long way in football.
“Howard was brilliant at getting the right combination and jigsaw to make a winning formula. He does not get the credit that he should have got for both Leeds and Sheffield Wednesday.
“I think a lot of it was because Howard wasn’t a big personality in front of the camera. But if you knew him on the training pitch, one-to-one and working with him, he had all that. But in front of the camera, people perceive it differently.
“He was an intelligent coach and man-manager and knew how to deal with players and get the best out of them.
“I recently bumped into Howard at Sheffield Wednesday’s academy and had a good chat with him and I have very fond memories of Leeds and those days with Speedo, Sterland, Batty and the Strachans and McAllisters.
“Gordon was one of the best players I played with in my life. He lived his life and did the right things and trained excellently.
“He was a great skipper to have in that team.
“We had such a team spirit around that time and we couldn’t stop winning. No-one could beat us, we were fit, organised and had great ability.
“And that midfield...Speedo, my word, you could see he was the real deal. What a leap he had and then there was Batty, the local lad.
“He was unprofessional and would go on the training pitch and his warm-up was kick the ball as high in the sky as he could. He was old school and ate fish and chips most days! His diet was poor, but he was an excellent player.”
And on his memories of Cantona, Varadi has a few vivid ones to this day.
He added: “Eric was real character, although a bit spoilt with things.
“I remember one day Howard dropped him to the subs bench and Eric wouldn’t get changed until about five to three and threw the dummy out of the pram.
“We were saying: ‘Go on, get changed’ and he was just not having it. He was temperamental, but obviously a class player..
“You find out how good players are when you train and are next to them and Eric was destined for great things.
“I also remember a day before an away game in London once. It was something like a quarter to one and we had a team meeting and Howard was there with his clipboard and going through the tactical stuff.
“I can vividly recall Cantona being sat at the back and Howard addressing us all and about five minutes into the speech, he shouted: ‘Eric.’ He was just looking out of the window.
“He said: ‘Eric, are you paying attention?’ And Eric was shrugging with his hands. Howard then said to the physio Alan Sutton, ‘Have you got his passport?’
“Howard got the passport and skimmed it to the back of the room and said: ‘Go on, f*** off back to France.’ He picked his passport up and we didn’t see him for a week...”
And on his own memories, he said: “I actually remember one game at Norwich when I didn’t think I was going to play.
“Gordon Strachan got injured late on Friday and on Thursday evening, I was out until something like five am.
“All the time after training on the way to Norwich, my head was against the window, sleeping all the way. I basically thought: ‘The best I will be is a sub.’
“Lo and behold, I started and I actually did well. I remember thinking: ‘Christ, it’s only 48 hours after I had a night out..’
“I think we met some royalty in that game as well as Norwich had a new stand opened.
“I remember going down to Bournemouth as well and it was like a war zone at times..”
Varadi linked with Wilkinson for a third time just five months after signing for play under him at Sheffield Wednesday – or so he thought anyway.
He added: “When I spoke to Howard when he was still at Wednesday, I was on my way to Celtic. Then Howard rang me and said: ‘I want you here.’ I remember saying to him: ‘Howard, what all are these rumours about you going to Leeds United?’
“He said: ‘Imre, I am not, I am staying here.’ So I said: ‘If I sign, you better not go..’ And what did he do..
“Something like seven days later, he went to Leeds; thanks Howard! But in fairness, he came back for me.”