Football: Graham leaves a golden legacy

Managerial merry-go-round: Former Arsenal man's ability to rehabilitate will be tested to limit at White Hart Lane

ON THE face of it, George Graham's column in the final programme of his first season with Leeds United contained nothing more than the customary managerial platitudes. But the sentiments in one paragraph are the kind that will ensure a stormy reception from the Elland Road crowd when he returns with Tottenham on 6 March.

"Someone asked me the other day if I would be tempted if a big job came along in London," wrote Graham, not specifying whether that someone had been Alan Sugar. "My answer was that I have taken on this big job at Leeds and will finish it."

Finish it was precisely what he did yesterday, walking out on Leeds three weeks after the second anniversary of his appointment. He leaves an understandable feeling of betrayal, and not simply because he also talked of wanting to recreate the success of the Don Revie era.

Behind his departure is the implication that Spurs, who last won the championship in 1961, are a bigger club than Leeds, with three titles in the past 30 years. Such notions have little currency in Yorkshire, where resentment of the capital's perceived arrogance needs no encouragement.

Moreover, Graham's claim that his engagement to a London woman was a factor in his decision seems a trifle far-fetched from a man of 53. And who was it, Leeds fans can be forgiven for asking, that gave him a chance to manage at the highest level after a year's ban had made him a pariah?

Yet when passions have subsided, they may also reflect that they have much to thank him for. Graham effected a remarkable transformation in Leeds' fortunes after succeeding Howard Wilkinson, overhauling the playing squad to the extent that not one of their 1992 championship side remains.

Wilkinson's failure to build on that triumph had accelerated into a serious decline, culminating in a 4-0 humiliation at home to a Manchester United inspired by the player he sold for pounds 1.2m, Eric Cantona. When he was dismissed, five games into the 1996-97 season, some critics saw it as the impatient act of ignorant new owners. In fact, Leeds' 12-month record was that of a relegation side, and influential performers like Gary McAllister and Gary Speed had jumped ship that summer.

Graham inherited a squad that was a mixture of ageing high earners: most obviously Ian Rush and Tony Yeboah; players from the Youth Cup-winning class of '93 who were not fulfilling their potential, such as Andy Couzens, Mark Ford and Mark Tinkler; and journeymen defenders favoured by his predecessor, like John Pemberton, Richard Jobson and Paul Beesley.

Wilkinson also bequeathed him some excellent players, notably Lucas Radebe and Nigel Martyn, as well as a new, improved generation of teenagers. But the overall legacy was not impressive and one remembers Graham saying pointedly, after Leeds had drawn with Darlington in the Coca-Cola Cup in his first home match, that the task was bigger than he had thought.

He set about it in a manner that did not instantly endear him to the faithful. His first buy, the utility player Gunnar Halle from Oldham, was hardly calculated to excite the public (the Norwegian was, ironically, to have been Wilkinson's last recruit).

He deployed the one-time serial scorer Rush in midfield, largely ignored Yeboah's demands for inclusion and made avoiding relegation his priority. It was not pretty - Leeds scored only 28 goals, the lowest total this century by any club not actually demoted - but it bought Graham time.

Before last season, which proved to be his only full term at Leeds, he began his overhaul of the team in earnest. On one of his numerous scouting trips to Europe, Graham spotted an unknown Dutch striker called Jimmy Floyd Hasselbaink in Portugal. He paid pounds 2m for him and, after a slow start, Hasselbaink vindicated Graham's suggestion that he had something of Ian Wright's finishing prowess about him.

Curiously, his most expensive signing, the pounds 3.25m David Hopkin from Crystal Palace, proved one of his least successful, perhaps reinforcing the impression from his Arsenal days that Graham is better at finding bargains than at buying big. But even with Hopkin struggling for form, Leeds were a revelation.

With an average age of 24, they doubled exactly their goal tally from the previous campaign, climbing from 11th to fifth and claiming a Uefa Cup place. Hasselbaink was one of five Graham players to go to the World Cup finals, and in Harry Kewell, an Australian attacker who turned 20 last week, he had a young player coveted by his rivals.

Leeds under Graham became a formidable counter-attacking unit; even at home they encouraged opponents to come on to them. They finished with an away record bettered by only by Arsenal and Manchester United.

Nevertheless, their inability to break down well-organised defences before their own, expectant support increased the pressure on him to bring in a high-class playmaker in the style to which a crowd weaned on Giles, Currie, Sabella, Sheridan and McAllister were accustomed.

Graham, who appeared to have an aversion to such players at Arsenal, acknowledged the need for greater quality. He also intimated that such individuals would cost rather more than Leeds were prepared to pay, a suggestion disputed by the chairman, Peter Ridsdale.

Whatever the truth of the matter, it formed part of Graham's rationale for leaving, but is unlikely to spare him a hostile welcome next spring.

Life and Style
life
Arts and Entertainment
Diana from the Great British Bake Off 2014
tvProducers confirm contestant left because of illness
News
Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie reportedly married in secret on Saturday
peopleSpokesperson for couple confirms they tied the knot on Saturday after almost a decade together
Life and Style
Chen Mao recovers in BK Hospital, Seoul
health
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Caption competition
Caption competition
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Daily Quiz
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

Career Services
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Client-Side web developer (JQuery, Javascript, UI, JMX, FIX)

Negotiable: Harrington Starr: Client-Side web developer (JQuery, Javascript, U...

Structured Finance

Highly Competitive Salary: Austen Lloyd: CITY - An excellent new instruction w...

SQL Server Developer

£500 per day: Harrington Starr: SQL Server Developer SQL, PHP, C#, Real Time,...

C#.NET Developer

£600 per day: Harrington Starr: C#.NET Developer C#, Win Forms, WPF, WCF, MVVM...

Day In a Page

Ukraine crisis: The phoney war is over as Russian troops and armour pour across the border

The phoney war is over

Russian troops and armour pour into Ukraine
Potatoes could be off the menu as crop pests threaten UK

Potatoes could be off the menu as crop pests threaten UK

The world’s entire food system is under attack - and Britain is most at risk, according to a new study
Gangnam smile: why the Chinese are flocking to South Korea to buy a new face

Gangnam smile: why the Chinese are flocking to South Korea to buy a new face

Seoul's plastic surgery industry is booming thanks to the popularity of the K-Pop look
Salomé's feminine wiles have inspired writers, painters and musicians for 2,000 years

Salomé: A head for seduction

Salomé's feminine wiles have inspired writers, painters and musicians for 2,000 years. Now audiences can meet the Biblical femme fatale in two new stage and screen projects
From Bram Stoker to Stanley Kubrick, the British Library's latest exhibition celebrates all things Gothic

British Library celebrates all things Gothic

Forthcoming exhibition Terror and Wonder: The Gothic Imagination will be the UK's largest ever celebration of Gothic literature
The Hard Rock Café's owners are embroiled in a bitter legal dispute - but is the restaurant chain worth fighting for?

Is the Hard Rock Café worth fighting for?

The restaurant chain's owners are currently embroiled in a bitter legal dispute
Caribbean cuisine is becoming increasingly popular in the UK ... and there's more to it than jerk chicken at carnival

In search of Caribbean soul food

Caribbean cuisine is becoming increasingly popular in the UK ... and there's more to it than jerk chicken at carnival
11 best face powders

11 best face powders

Sweep away shiny skin with our pick of the best pressed and loose powder bases
England vs Norway: Roy Hodgson's hands tied by exploding top flight

Roy Hodgson's hands tied by exploding top flight

Lack of Englishmen at leading Premier League clubs leaves manager hamstrung
Angel Di Maria and Cristiano Ronaldo: A tale of two Manchester United No 7s

Di Maria and Ronaldo: A tale of two Manchester United No 7s

They both inherited the iconic shirt at Old Trafford, but the £59.7m new boy is joining a club in a very different state
Israel-Gaza conflict: No victory for Israel despite weeks of death and devastation

Robert Fisk: No victory for Israel despite weeks of devastation

Palestinians have won: they are still in Gaza, and Hamas is still there
Mary Beard writes character reference for Twitter troll who called her a 'slut'

Unlikely friends: Mary Beard and the troll who called her a ‘filthy old slut’

The Cambridge University classicist even wrote the student a character reference
America’s new apartheid: Prosperous white districts are choosing to break away from black cities and go it alone

America’s new apartheid

Prosperous white districts are choosing to break away from black cities and go it alone
Amazon is buying Twitch for £600m - but why do people want to watch others playing Xbox?

What is the appeal of Twitch?

Amazon is buying the video-game-themed online streaming site for £600m - but why do people want to watch others playing Xbox?
Tip-tapping typewriters, ripe pongs and slides in the office: Bosses are inventing surprising ways of making us work harder

How bosses are making us work harder

As it is revealed that one newspaper office pumps out the sound of typewriters to increase productivity, Gillian Orr explores the other devices designed to motivate staff