Howard Wilkinson reflects on Leeds United title success as Marcelo Bielsa aims for glory

Leeds United are chasing a title once again...

By Graham Smyth
Saturday, 20th June 2020, 6:00 am

When Howard Wilkinson talks about his 1991/92 First Division title winners and describes the players who brought glory to the city, certain words keep cropping up.

Character, temperament, experience – words he uses for more than one of the men in an Elland Road dressing room that sounded idyllic.

He had older heads like Gordon Strachan and young lads like David Batty and Gary Speed who gave the team the blend of youth and experience, nous and energy.

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Former Leeds United manager Howard Wilkinson with the 1992 First Division trophy. (JPIMedia)

Crucially, there were no ‘terrorists.’

“It was a great dressing room,” he told the YEP.

“I used to say and still do, in your dressing room you get leaders who create energy, people who join in who feed off that energy, they’re not leaders, and then you get terrorists who drain energy.

“They’ve got to go.

“I didn’t have one terrorist.”

When you do any research into any of the club’s great teams, the Leeds United mantra, side before self, made famous by legendary captain Billy Bremner, rings true in one sense or another.

For Wilkinson’s men it manifested in what he saw as generosity, a willingness to put the team first or to put absolutely everything in for the team.

“All the people I’ve talked about – John Pearson [he left in 1991], who wasn’t there then [for the title], he said and I think it’s true – with that group of players, it was the best bench he’d ever experienced,” said Wilkinson.

“If you were on the bench you genuinely wanted the people on the pitch to do well.

“That’s not always the case.”

Mel Sterland embodied what Wilkinson wanted to see from his players when it came to attitude and selflessness.

“Sterland was one who was very generous in terms of his contribution to what nowadays they call team spirit, which I think is having the right values,” said the former Leeds boss.

“The team is bigger than all of us and what we’ve got to do is what’s demanded by the game and if it’s not what we like sometimes we’ve got to get on with it.

“In that sense it was a terrific dressing room, with a lot of leaders.”

And of course, on the pitch, Leeds could really play. They had players with wonderful ability, like Strachan, Gary McAllister and Rod Wallace. In Tony Dorigo and Speed they had pace.

And although Lee Chapman was a targetman, his boss remembers him as a player with skill and intelligence.

While their status and place in history as English champions can never be taken from them, Wilkinson feels some didn’t understand exactly how that Leeds team played.

The misunderstanding of their tactics, he believes, has lasted.

And he’s keen to correct it.

“People didn’t realise it then and they don’t realise it now because they always said we played 4-4-2,” he said.

“We did, on occasion, but we also played 4-3-3, with two wide players and one up the middle, we also played almost what is now called a diamond, with [David] Batty sitting, two up front, Gordon and Speed coming in.

“We could change in terms of the shape we played. We could be quite difficult to read before a game.

“You could look at the team and think 4-4-2, Gordon and Speed wide, Batty and McAllister, blah, blah, blah, but it wasn’t. It was the same up front, Wallace sometimes would start wide left and then move central. Sometimes he’d start central.

“The way I wanted us to play was quite different. When we had the ball I wanted the full-backs pushing on, then the wide players would come in. So we’d always find full-backs free in their half.

“If Rod Wallace comes in off the line and Tony Dorigo goes wide, the full-back doesn’t know where to go and whichever one he goes with he’s going to get caught because of the options available.

“We were hard to play against.”

And they remain impossible to forget.