At the time of writing, Leeds United’s lengthy search for a new manager has finally ended with the announcement, on the 4th of July 2023, that former Norwich boss Daniel Farke has been appointed. After “Big Sam” Allardyce’s 30-day tenure as Whites boss came to an end on the 2nd of June, following the club’s relegation, it seemed as though Leeds were determined to keep the fans in limbo all summer but finally the club can move forward and dream of a brighter future.
The West Yorkshire side’s return to the Championship is an unwelcome one, and they will be looking for Farke to steer them straight back to the top division, a feat that took some 17 years and an Argentine genius last time! Rather than focusing on the club’s current plight, however, in this article we will instead be taking a look at three of the greatest ever Leeds managers, from Don Revie to “Don” Marcelo Bielsa.
Don Revie: 1961-1974 (52.22% Win Percentage)
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Yorkshire-born Revie’s time at Leeds United began in 1958, when the forward was signed by manager Bill Lambton in an attempt to turn the club’s dire league form around, and he was quickly appointed as captain. Whilst his playing days for the Whites were nothing special, as the club were relegated to the Second Division in his second season, Revie’s leadership qualities were firmly on display, and he was appointed player-manager of the club in 1961.
At this point, the West Yorkshire side were struggling, both on and off the pitch, finding themselves marooned in the Second Division and in financial difficulty, as the club were failing to attract big crowds, who would instead flock to local rugby team Leeds (now Leeds Rhinos). Revie therefore decided that change was desperately needed, and he began to make drastic, club-wide alterations. He wanted to introduce a “family atmosphere” at the club, and therefore took an interest in the lives of everyone at Leeds, whether that be the players or the cleaning staff, to try and remove any inflated egos from his team. He retired as a player in 1962 to allow him to focus purely on management.
Revie was also a keen analyst, who began compiling dossiers of information on the club’s opposition, to try and gain a tactical advantage on match day. The manager was also famously superstitious, and believed that birds were bad luck, which prompted the swift removal of both the owl on the Leeds badge and the club nickname of “Peacocks.”
Revie’s first playing squad was largely made up of ageing journeymen, aside from star players Jack Charlton and Billy Bremner, and he therefore decided to pursue a youth policy, to provide the club with fresh talent. The legendary gaffer’s first success came in 1963/64, when his Leeds side lifted the Second Division title, and this was just the first of many trophies that he brought to West Yorkshire, as the Whites became a powerhouse of English football.
Although Revie’s side were criticised as being overly combative and physical (hence “dirty Leeds”), and seemed to enjoy a brawl, they were a force to be reckoned with, populated by Leeds icons such as Norman Hunter, Eddie Gray and Jack Charlton. They won a very impressive eight trophies, including two league titles, and even reached the European Cup final in 1975 (which we won’t go into!)
Howard Wilkinson: 1988-1996 (42.93% Win Percentage)
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Next up, we have the affectionately named “Sergeant Wilko”, the last boss to steer Leeds United to the First Division title, and as of 2023, the last English manager to win the English top flight. Just like Revie before him, Wilkinson arrived with the Whites stuck in the Second Division, and quickly set to work in transforming the club into a First Division side. Wilko brought in the brilliant Gordon Strachan and legendary hardman Vinnie Jones (who must have been signed to remove the “dirty Leeds” moniker!) and steered the West Yorkshire side to the Second Division title in 1989/90.
After securing promotion, Wilkinson’s Leeds took to the top flight well, finishing fourth in the 1990/91 campaign, as his squad continued to improve with the signing of Gary McAllister and the emergence of youth talents Gary Speed and David Batty. A certain enigmatic Frenchman by the name of Eric Cantona also arrived in Yorkshire for the following season, and the now-complete Leeds side won the First Division title for the third and so far final time in the club’s history.
Wilkinson’s side finished on 82 points, four clear of fierce rivals Manchester United, an enormous achievement for a team that had been languishing in the Second Division just three seasons prior.
Marcelo Bielsa: 2018-2022 (47.6% Win Percentage)
Although he may not boast the trophy cabinets of Wilkinson and Revie, Marcelo Bielsa is undoubtedly one of the greatest managers to ever occupy (or sit on a bucket in) the Elland Road dugout. “El Loco” is one of the most influential coaches of all time, having played a big part in shaping the likes of Pep Guardiola, Mauricio Pochettino and Diego Simeone, and he utterly transformed Leeds United.
Continuing the common trend, the Argentine boss was announced as Leeds gaffer whilst they were stuck in the EFL Championship. Within a year, the club were unrecognisable. Bielsa’s signature 3-3-1-3 formation was modified to 4-1-4-1, or more traditional 4-2-3-1, albeit with the same big focus on going man-to-man. In addition, the huge emphasis on physical fitness and running transformed Leeds into the most athletic team in the league. The club then stormed to the 2019/2020 Championship title, allowing them to return to the Premier League after a 17-year absence.
In their first season in the Premier League, Bielsa’s Leeds were enormously impressive, continuing to play their athletic and possession-focused brand of football, regardless of their opponents. This allowed them to surprise some of the league’s top sides, as the Whites even defeated Manchester City at the Etihad with 10 men! The West Yorkshire club finished in a very impressive ninth place, scoring the most goals and earning the most points of any promoted team in the previous 20 years. Although Bielsa’s tenure at Leeds ended with a number of defeats that saw him sacked in February 2022, it will be remembered as one of the greatest and certainly most joyous periods in the club’s history.