No one knows the man who has filled Glenn Hoddle's tracksuit better than the Scotland captain, Gary McAllister, the midfield general of his title- winning Leeds team. McAllister believes he owes more than his Championship medal to the experienced manager who has stepped into the breech. If it was not for Wilkinson, his career might be over.
Still playing in the top-flight at 34, McAllister said: "Howard gave me fitness I didn't have. My body changed at Leeds even though I was 25 when I got there. He made us appreciate that if you can run longer you have a better chance. If you are a good player and can run longer, it's better still.
"Pre-season training was like nothing I had ever seen before. There was an awful lot of thought going into it, it was structure. You didn't just run up to a tree and back again. Howard was right. That has stood me in good stead and probably lengthened my career. We do the same stuff at Coventry now because Gordon Strachan [Coventry's manager] had obviously listened to him."
McAllister claimed Wilkinson was something of a visionary in that department and is unhappy that Arsenal's manager, Arsene Wenger, took praise for the same ideas when he won the Double. He said: "It was an insult to hear Arsenal's methods were new. Howard had brought in special diets, introduced us to creatine and worked on stretching exercises years ago. Howard is an ultra-professional. I think it all goes back to that Yorkshire work ethic, he let you know you needed an honest day's work for an honest day's pay.
"It was new to me because I had been under David Pleat at Leicester where they would rather draw 4-4, play total football and entertain than win 1-0 and bore. I learned that results are what matter. It could be a dog of a game for 89 minutes but then you score one and win. That was your job. That suggests he is dour - but he's not. There was plenty of banter about and it was a happy enough place."
McAllister is also sure that Wilkinson's lack of experience at the top international level will not be a handicap when the critics start to look for ammunition. He said: "There are so many big-name players who have tried and failed at management that the argument doesn't really work anymore.
"Arsene Wenger has never won medals but is at the top of his profession. Howard will not get fazed or worry about handling top players, but it would be a help to bring in a good No 2.
"Howard won't be able to teach these players new tricks like Glenn Hoddle could, so he does need an ex-England man beside him. David Platt did that before at youth level and could be the man. I hope Howard enjoys working with the best players in England. I think, like most other things, he will be good at it."Reuse content