Wilkinson once took the Leeds players underground to observe life in the mines to bring an appreciation of obvious advantages

One opinion that has been held here too long to be lightly dismissed is that managers who put their trust in footballers are asking for trouble. "Play all the angles before they start playing you," is how Brian Clough once put it.

What helped to make Clough a great figure in his time was the understanding that liberty-taking comes naturally to the breed, along with a nose for excuses - the coaching, the tactics, the pitch, team selection, even what is served up for breakfast.

Delayed when returning from abroad, an England player's eyes lit up at the suggestion that it was no way to get ready for a match against Liverpool at Anfield. "Try working on a coal face," Clough would probably have growled.

As I recall it, Howard Wilkinson once took the Leeds players then under his charge to observe life underground in the coal mines in the hope that it would bring about a greater appreciation of pretty obvious advantages.

Probably, this did not have the desired effect because, from personal experience, footballers, in the main, take their good fortune for granted.

All these things sprang to mind this week when it was announced that Wilkinson's eight-year reign at Elland Road was over. On the evidence of their dismal performance in last season's Coca-Cola Cup final against Aston Villa and subsequent displays in the Premiership, a fairly safe bet is that few if any of the Leeds players considered themselves in any way responsible for Wilkinson's dismissal.

Thinking back to a conversation I had with Wilkinson shortly after the Wembley disappointment, he may have sensed by then that it was time to think seriously about alternative employment.

It was not simply that football supporters are naturally unforgiving and that directors run out of patience, but that the team had stopped performing for him.

"Daft as it might sound, it got to the point at Wembley where I wished that one of them would hit the referee, start fighting among themselves, anything to show that they were actually interested," I recall him saying.

When those thoughts figured in an interview on these pages, they caused quite a stir and, apparently, led to recriminations in the Leeds dressing room.

However you look at these things, the manager, of course, is ultimately responsible. Eight years, even five, is a long time to be hearing one voice, and in Wilkinson's case it had reached the point where either he got himself a new team or the team would get itself a new manager. That Wilkinson was unfailingly honest and is in touch with wider realities did not come into the equation.

Ironically, Wilkinson's replacement, George Graham, had begun to experience something similar at Arsenal before he was called to account in a "bung" inquiry, sacked and then suspended from football for 12 months. The methods Graham had employed to win five major trophies in eight years, including two championships, were beginning to creak along with the legs of ageing players. An unavoidable impression was that Arsenal found Graham's indiscretions convenient.

Still, slapping managers around with consummate disrespect has not made it unpopular with the masses. It is not that long ago since many Manchester United supporters would have gladly seen the back of Alex Ferguson, who has since established himself as one of the truly great club managers, in the mould of Clough, Jock Stein, Sir Matt Busby, Bill Shankly, Bill Nicholson and Don Revie. Likewise, Everton supporters were howling for Howard Kendall's head before he went on to win the championship.

It has to be said that Wilkinson made mistakes, especially when signing players who never came up to expectations. There was a lot of tinkering with the system and, over the last couple of seasons, too many team changes. Winning the championship just two seasons after Leeds returned to the top flight probably worked against Wilkinson in that it brought about an untimely upsurge of expectation.

Shortly before that success was achieved, I came across Wilkinson at the Cheltenham Spring Festival. He was with two Leeds directors, one of whom said: "You are speaking to the best manager in the business." Wilkinson had already raised Leeds from the ruins of the post-Revie era.

This week the curtain came down for him at Elland Road just five matches into the season. Nothing new in this, but it is getting more and more difficult to be light-hearted about a game for children.

Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment
Books should be for everyone, says Els, 8. Publisher Scholastic now agrees
booksAn eight-year-old saw a pirate book was ‘for boys’ and took on the publishers
Life and Style
Mary Beard received abuse after speaking positively on 'Question Time' about immigrant workers: 'When people say ridiculous, untrue and hurtful things, then I think you should call them out'
tech
Life and Style
Most mail-order brides are thought to come from Thailand, the Philippines and Romania
life
News
i100
Life and Style
tech
Voices
Margaret Thatcher, with her director of publicity Sir Gordon Reece, who helped her and the Tory Party to victory in 1979
voicesThe subject is being celebrated by the V&A museum, triggering some happy memories for former PR man DJ Taylor
Caption competition
Caption competition
  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Daily Quiz
Independent Dating
and  

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

Career Services
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Installation and Service / Security Engineer

£22000 - £40000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This company is part of a Group...

Recruitment Genius: Service Charge Accounts Assistant

£16000 - £18000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Are you a a young, dynamic pers...

Cancer Research UK: Corporate Partnerships Volunteer Events Coordinator – London

Voluntary: Cancer Research UK: We’re looking for someone to support our award ...

Ashdown Group: Head of IT - Hertfordshire - £90,000

£70000 - £90000 per annum + bonus + car allowance + benefits: Ashdown Group: H...

Day In a Page

General Election 2015: Chuka Umunna on the benefits of immigration, humility – and his leader Ed Miliband

Chuka Umunna: A virus of racism runs through Ukip

The shadow business secretary on the benefits of immigration, humility – and his leader Ed Miliband
Yemen crisis: This exotic war will soon become Europe's problem

Yemen's exotic war will soon affect Europe

Terrorism and boatloads of desperate migrants will be the outcome of the Saudi air campaign, says Patrick Cockburn
Marginal Streets project aims to document voters in the run-up to the General Election

Marginal Streets project documents voters

Independent photographers Joseph Fox and Orlando Gili are uploading two portraits of constituents to their website for each day of the campaign
Game of Thrones: Visit the real-life kingdom of Westeros to see where violent history ends and telly tourism begins

The real-life kingdom of Westeros

Is there something a little uncomfortable about Game of Thrones shooting in Northern Ireland?
How to survive a social-media mauling, by the tough women of Twitter

How to survive a Twitter mauling

Mary Beard, Caroline Criado-Perez, Louise Mensch, Bunny La Roche and Courtney Barrasford reveal how to trounce the trolls
Gallipoli centenary: At dawn, the young remember the young who perished in one of the First World War's bloodiest battles

At dawn, the young remember the young

A century ago, soldiers of the Empire – many no more than boys – spilt on to Gallipoli’s beaches. On this 100th Anzac Day, there are personal, poetic tributes to their sacrifice
Dissent is slowly building against the billions spent on presidential campaigns – even among politicians themselves

Follow the money as never before

Dissent is slowly building against the billions spent on presidential campaigns – even among politicians themselves, reports Rupert Cornwell
Samuel West interview: The actor and director on austerity, unionisation, and not mentioning his famous parents

Samuel West interview

The actor and director on austerity, unionisation, and not mentioning his famous parents
General Election 2015: Imagine if the leading political parties were fashion labels

Imagine if the leading political parties were fashion labels

Fashion editor, Alexander Fury, on what the leaders' appearances tell us about them
Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka: Home can be the unsafest place for women

Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka: Home can be the unsafest place for women

The architect of the HeForShe movement and head of UN Women on the world's failure to combat domestic violence
Public relations as 'art'? Surely not

Confessions of a former PR man

The 'art' of public relations is being celebrated by the V&A museum, triggering some happy memories for DJ Taylor
Bill Granger recipes: Our chef succumbs to his sugar cravings with super-luxurious sweet treats

Bill Granger's luxurious sweet treats

Our chef loves to stop for 30 minutes to catch up on the day's gossip, while nibbling on something sweet
London Marathon 2015: Paula Radcliffe and the mother of all goodbyes

The mother of all goodbyes

Paula Radcliffe's farewell to the London Marathon will be a family affair
Everton vs Manchester United: Steven Naismith demands 'better' if Toffees are to upset the odds against United

Steven Naismith: 'We know we must do better'

The Everton forward explains the reasons behind club's decline this season
Arsenal vs Chelsea: Praise to Arsene Wenger for having the courage of his convictions

Michael Calvin's Last Word

Praise to Wenger for having the courage of his convictions