Football: O'Leary stirs the spirit of seasons past

Nick Townsend hears the Leeds chairman revel in a new beginning

FROM STARTING OUT as 'umble as a Uriah Heep to becoming as ruthless as a Fagin, dispatching his brash urchins to pilfer points, perceptions of David O'Leary have had to change quickly. In just a year the Irishman's profile has risen spectacularly as Leeds reach the festive period as Premiership leaders and victors of 13 of 18 League games. Inevitably, there will come a time when predators will cast covetous eyes. But, as chairman Peter Ridsdale reflected on a quite improbable 12 months, he declared that O'Leary will not be wooed away through lack of funds or absence of ambition.

"As far as I'm concerned, David will not go anywhere else because of money," Ridsdale insisted, "because we will make sure that both in money for the squad and his personal contract he won't be enticed away because of cash. It would have to be something else. He's got the best young squad and I hope he's happy with the culture of the club, and with me and the other directors. If that's true, why go anywhere else?"

Highbury, many would suggest, might provide an attraction given past association. Particularly in the environs of London N5, there are those who blithely assume that should Arsene Wenger be lured back to Japan, Arsenal would have an already-honed replacement who had served a suitable apprenticeship. But O'Leary emphasised himself, as he prepared to face his old club on Tuesday, that such thoughts are distant from his own mind.

"I have absolutely no interest in the Arsenal job," he said. "My tongue is certainly not hanging out, waiting for the time when Arsene Wenger goes. I spent 17 wonderful years there, but Leeds are the future as far as I'm concerned."

Ridsdale will be gratified to hear those sentiments, but not surprised. "Not only has he signed a five-year contract, but I think that David believes he's got a very special squad," said the chairman. "If he goes somewhere else, he would have to start again at square one. Why do that when he can create something at Leeds and win things?" Since George Graham defected to Tottenham ago 14 months ago, it must have seemed like having a Picasso stolen, having your bid to purchase a replacement rejected, then rummaging in your attic and coming across an unknown artist which turns out to be a masterpiece.

The irony is that while Graham stabilised Tottenham - just as he did at Elland Road - and added a Worthington Cup to the trophy sideboard, it has hardly been the most settled of stewardships. Wednesday's 6-1 FA Cup humbling at Newcastle confirmed that, without the influence of Darren Anderton and Les Ferdinand, they are a modest side indeed. If Graham remains beyond the end of this season, a significant infusion of talent will be required to restore a healthy constitution to an ailing team, together with a close scrutiny of whether their most gifted individual David Ginola is a maverick too far for Graham's modus operandi.

Similarly, despite a conclusion to the boardroom blood-letting at Leicester, the question remains whether Martin O'Neill has galvanised the East Midlands club, who intriguingly face Leeds today, to a level beyond which resources are insufficient to permit further progress. How both the Scot and the Ulsterman must occasionally glance enviously at Elland Road and the success of O'Leary, who benefited as Graham followed a southern star, and O'Neill remained committed to his principles of loyalty.

"I realised fairly early on that the chances of Martin coming were fairly slim," said Ridsdale. "But funnily enough the time it took waiting to see if Leicester would give Martin permission to talk to us, gave us the opportunity to see David working at first hand. Watching him with the players suddenly allowed us to see what skills he had got.

"George Graham is a very dominant individual, and while David worked for him he was never really able to stand out. By the time we played Roma [in the Uefa Cup] and did very well but lost 1-0 it became clear that David was growing into the job, and frankly it would have been a mistake not to appoint him. What we were seeing there was a man who was very gifted in man-management terms, and was giving young lads the chance. They were responding by wanting to play for him."

At this time last year, it was a case of rookie manager, virtually new chairman and novice players charged with re-establishing Leeds as a major force. Hardly the most propitious of circumstances. "Obviously, it was all new to him at first, but David has grown enormously in confidence and stature. I know he originally came out with that line about being `young and naive' and I think at the time he meant it. Now, of course, people are thinking, `You've said it enough; now shut up!'" said Ridsdale, with a laugh.

He added: "When he first started, we were in it together. I'd only been chairman for just over 15 months. The bond that we've got was forged by us both being thrown in at the deep end. What we've done in the last year, both in rebuilding the side and bringing the youngsters in, has been an enormous learning curve. We've grown up five years in a year."

So, too, the likes of Jonathon Woodgate and Alan Smith. "What I'm most pleased about is if you sit on the team bus there is a genuine spirit between the young lads, that they're in it together and that they are a team, not just a collection of individuals," Ridsdale said. "That's why David checks out any players thoroughly before signing anyone. When we bought Jason Wilcox last week he looked at his family background, how he was off the field. He does not want people who come along and will not fit in. Similarly, during the [Jimmy Floyd] Hasselbaink saga, we discussed it and were determined that we would not allow any player to disrupt the culture and climate of the club and we got rid. We didn't mess around. Some clubs might have had a problem between the manager and the chairman, but we were as one."

Ridsdale rightly urges caution, with that footballing truism, "we've won nothing yet". Some observers remain sceptical whether they will. You can already hear some pundits proclaiming that Leeds may not be able to sustain their progress with kids. But then where have we heard that before?

Rice on O'Leary, page 22

News
A 1930 image of the Karl Albrecht Spiritousen and Lebensmittel shop, Essen. The shop was opened by Karl and Theo Albrecht’s mother; the brothers later founded Aldi
people
Arts and Entertainment
Standing the test of time: Michael J Fox and Christopher Lloyd in 'Back to the Future'
filmA cult movie event aims to immerse audiences of 80,000 in ‘Back to the Future’. But has it lost its magic?
Arts and Entertainment
Flora Spencer-Longhurst as Lavinia, William Houston as Titus Andronicus and Dyfan Dwyfor as Lucius
theatreThe Shakespeare play that proved too much for more than 100 people
News
exclusivePunk icon Viv Albertine on Sid Vicious, complacent white men, and why free love led to rape
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment
Stir crazy: Noel Fielding in 'Luxury Comedy 2: Tales from Painted Hawaii'
comedyAs ‘Luxury Comedy’ returns, Noel Fielding on why mainstream success scares him and what the future holds for 'The Boosh'
Life and Style
Flow chart: Karl Landsteiner discovered blood types in 1900, yet scientists have still not come up with an explanation for their existence
lifeAll of us have one. Yet even now, it’s a matter of debate what they’re for
Arts and Entertainment
'Weird Al' Yankovic, or Alfred Matthew, at the 2014 Los Angeles Film Festival Screening of
musicHis latest video is an ode to good grammar. But what do our experts think he’s missed out?
Sport
New Real Madrid signing James Rodríguez with club president Florentino Perez
sportColombian World Cup star completes £63m move to Spain
Travel
Hotel Tour d’Auvergne in Paris launches pay-what-you-want
travelIt seems fraught with financial risk, but the policy has its benefits
Arts and Entertainment
booksThe best children's books for this summer
Life and Style
News to me: family events were recorded in the personal columns
techFamily events used to be marked in the personal columns. But now Facebook has usurped that
News
news
News
i100
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

Sustainability Manager

Competitive: The Green Recruitment Company: Job Title: Scheme Manager (BREEAM)...

Graduate Sustainability Professional

Flexible, depending on experience: The Green Recruitment Company: Job Title: T...

Programme Director - Conduct Risk - London

£850 - £950 per day: Orgtel: Programme Director - Conduct Risk - Banking - £85...

Project Coordinator/Order Entry, SC Clear

£100 - £110 per day: Orgtel: Project Coordinator/Order Entry Hampshire

Day In a Page

Noel Fielding's 'Luxury Comedy': A land of the outright bizarre

Noel Fielding's 'Luxury Comedy'

A land of the outright bizarre
What are the worst 'Word Crimes'?

What are the worst 'Word Crimes'?

‘Weird Al’ Yankovic's latest video is an ode to good grammar. But what do The Independent’s experts think he’s missed out?
Can Secret Cinema sell 80,000 'Back to the Future' tickets?

The worst kept secret in cinema

A cult movie event aims to immerse audiences of 80,000 in ‘Back to the Future’. But has it lost its magic?
Facebook: The new hatched, matched and dispatched

The new hatched, matched and dispatched

Family events used to be marked in the personal columns. But now Facebook has usurped the ‘Births, Deaths and Marriages’ announcements
Why do we have blood types?

Are you my type?

All of us have one but probably never wondered why. Yet even now, a century after blood types were discovered, it’s a matter of debate what they’re for
Honesty box hotels: You decide how much you pay

Honesty box hotels

Five hotels in Paris now allow guests to pay only what they think their stay was worth. It seems fraught with financial risk, but the honesty policy has its benefit
Commonwealth Games 2014: Why weight of pressure rests easy on Michael Jamieson’s shoulders

Michael Jamieson: Why weight of pressure rests easy on his shoulders

The Scottish swimmer is ready for ‘the biggest race of my life’ at the Commonwealth Games
Some are reformed drug addicts. Some are single mums. All are on benefits. But now these so-called 'scroungers’ are fighting back

The 'scroungers’ fight back

The welfare claimants battling to alter stereotypes
Amazing video shows Nasa 'flame extinguishment experiment' in action

Fireballs in space

Amazing video shows Nasa's 'flame extinguishment experiment' in action
A Bible for billionaires

A Bible for billionaires

Find out why America's richest men are reading John Brookes
Paranoid parenting is on the rise - and our children are suffering because of it

Paranoid parenting is on the rise

And our children are suffering because of it
For sale: Island where the Magna Carta was sealed

Magna Carta Island goes on sale

Yours for a cool £4m
Phone hacking scandal special report: The slide into crime at the 'News of the World'

The hacker's tale: the slide into crime at the 'News of the World'

Glenn Mulcaire was jailed for six months for intercepting phone messages. James Hanning tells his story in a new book. This is an extract
We flinch, but there are degrees of paedophilia

We flinch, but there are degrees of paedophilia

Child abusers are not all the same, yet the idea of treating them differently in relation to the severity of their crimes has somehow become controversial
The truth about conspiracy theories is that some require considering

The truth about conspiracy theories is that some require considering

For instance, did Isis kill the Israeli teenagers to trigger a war, asks Patrick Cockburn