Strachan calls time at Leeds

with the decision of the `skip' to take up coaching, Guy Hodgson looks at the end of an era at Elland Road
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Noel Whelan, one of Leeds United's brightest prodigies, was sorting through fan mail at Elland Road when he spotted Gordon Strachan. "Loads for me, skip," he said, pausing before delivering the punchline, "but hardly any for you."

It was a young man's jibe, the sort that dressing-rooms the world over reserve for senior players. not every footballer passing into his dotage is referred to as "skip", however, and certainly very few of them who no longer hold the skipper's position.

B ut such was his stature at Leeds, that even Gary McAllister, the captain, refers to Strachan in the same reverential terms.

Strachan's announcement yesterday that he has retired as a player to concentrate on coaching marks the end of one era and the beginning of another at Elland Road.

The little red-headed winger, who was footballer of the year in England and Scotland, represented the club's revival in the early Nineties, and his playing departure will similarly reinforce the sense of frustration about the present.

"I have decided I no longer have sufficient influence on first-team football at Leeds," said Strachan, who had originally planned to retire at the end of the season. "I think if you are a player with a club at any level, you must be an influence whether it be through playing ability or different qualities. If you are no longer an influence, it's time to move on."

Strachan, 38 in three weeks time and who has been troubled by a back injury for several years, was bought by Leeds from Manchester United in 1989 with one intention. The £300,000 fee was an investment to secure promotion from the then Second Divison, andit was repaid within a season.

If that was the short-term aim, however, Strachan had higher ambitions, and fortified by a training regime and a strict diet, he extended his career by a further five years, making 244 appearances for Leeds.

He also revived an international career that appeared to have finished when he was omitted from the Scotland World Cup squad in 1990, to take his number of caps to 50.

The crowning moment was the championship season, 1991-92, where Strachan and McAllister formed an inspirational partnership. Even in the run-in when he was suffering with sciatica, his was the sensible head the rest looked to when the tension of the racewith Manchester United began to tear at the composure of others.

"Gordon was in at the start of what was the rebirth of this club," Howard Wilkinson, his manager at Leeds, said. "His inspired captaincy, energy and tremendous skill will long remain in the memory of those fans who witnessed it."

Strachan's career had burned brightest with Aberdeen, whom he helped to two championships and the European Cup-Winners' Cup.

Alex Ferguson, his manager at Aberdeen and who eventually let him go from Old Trafford to Elland Road, added: "He had such brilliant control of the ball and that was his greatest strength. I don't regret selling him; it was the right time for him to go from here and the right time for Leeds when they were in the doldrums.

"Gordon has the right background to succeed as a coach. He played at the highest level which means that players will listen to him."

For the moment, Strachan - who was awarded an OBE in the New Year's Honours 12 months ago - will work with Leeds' younger players. There is speculation, however, that his elevation to first-team coach, with Wilkinson stepping up to be general manager, will happen this summer.