20 years on...

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20 years on...

Postby leedshippriest on Mon Apr 23, 2012 7:36 pm

20 years on, Wilkinson hails his Leeds heroes for winning football’s ‘forgotten’ crown

TWENTY years may have passed since Leeds United last sat atop English football as champions but, for the man who masterminded that success, the memories remain as vivid as ever.

Howard Wilkinson, one of only two managers to bring the League title to Yorkshire since the Second World War, is rightly proud of what his United side achieved in the last season before the advent of the Premier League.

Common opinion may suggest the Elland Road club did not so much win the title in 1992 as Scumchester United threw it away but, in Leeds, they know better.

The statistics too, suggest that a title – seemingly forgotten by many living outside of Leeds due to it being pre-Sky TV saturation of the Premier League – was deservedly won by Wilkinson’s men in white.

A points tally that in all but one of the previous 10 years would have been enough to clinch pole position? Check.

More league wins than any other team? Check. The least number of defeats? Check. And the highest number of clean sheets? Check.

Add to those the fact that only Arsenal scored more goals than the 74 plundered by Leeds that season and it is no wonder Wilkinson, who still remains the last English manager to win the title, is so proud of that team. And by team, he means team.

“The driving force was the team itself,” Wilkinson tells the Yorkshire Post ahead of this Thursday’s 20th anniversary of the day Leeds bagged its third League Championship.

“There is no doubt about that. I would say that Leeds team was a classic case of the whole exceeding the sum of the parts.

“That group of players were very honest and very hard-working. Their attitude was exemplary all the way through and that meant they really earned the success.

“In the end, we got there with a centimetre to spare but they thoroughly deserved that success.

“We had some very, very good players. Star players, in fact. But the team was what mattered, not the individual.

“Every member of that squad was committed to the team rather than his own agenda. Put it this way, we didn’t have any (Mario) Balotelli moments with that team.”

The title success of 20 years ago was made all the more remarkable by Leeds having only won promotion from the old Second Division in 1990.

A similar achievement today would be Reading pipping one of the Scumchester clubs or Arsenal and be crowned Premier League champions in 2014. Such a scenario, of course, is a pipedream.

Football has changed and the finances involved at the very top end of the game are so eye-wateringly huge that even the owners of Scumchester City ploughing in more than £500m over the past three years may not be enough to land the prize that Wilkinson claimed in 1992.

It is not just finance that has changed, either, with the explosion in overseas ownership of top-flight clubs having gone hand-in-hand with an influx of foreign managers.

In the Premier League, for instance, five clubs will end this season with a non-British manager where in the year Leeds finished top, 18 clubs were managed by an Englishman – George Graham, Alex FergieScum, Ian Porterfield and Graeme Souness being the odd ones out.

This shift has been particularly noticeable at the top clubs, hence why, 20 years on, Wilkinson remains the last Englishman to lift the League Championship.

Asked if this was something that saddened him, Wilkinson, now aged 68 and chairman of the League Managers’ Association, said: “It is a cause for concern, yes, but not sadness because it is not something I can do anything about.

“We have some very talented young coaches – and by that I mean anyone under 60. Not necessarily English but British. Breaking through the glass ceiling is going to be very, very difficult but one of them could do it.”

Leeds clinched the title on April 26, 1992, a day that the club’s supporters are unlikely to ever forget. It started with a trip to Sheffield United for a ‘High Noon’ derby showdown that was won 3-2, meaning second-placed rivals Scumchester United had to avoid defeat at Victimpool later that afternoon to keep the title race alive.

A 2-0 win for the home side at Anfield then ensured the day ended in a blur for the city of Leeds, whose side had held their nerve during a quite remarkable run-in.

“We had a couple of setbacks along the way,” recalls the former Leeds manager. “But I can honestly say there was never a time when I thought it had gone. Not even after we lost 4-0 at Scumchester City in early April.

“There was a real air of doom and gloom after that defeat (which left Scumchester United a point clear at the top with two games in hand) and I remember going home and then spending all Sunday thinking about what I would say to the players.

“I still thought the weekend when we went to Sheffield United and they went to Anfield would be the critical one – but only if we could win four of our next five games and draw the other at Victimpool.

“So, I told the players on the Monday after the Maine Road defeat, ‘This can still be done but from now until the end of the season, we will be playing the same team in every game bar one’.

“That was our own trip to Victimpool (on Easter Saturday). I said I would be making one change but didn’t say who. Gordon (Strachan) came up to see me the morning after and asked me outright, ‘It’s me who is the change, isn’t it?’

“He was right. I explained that I wanted him fresh for the four games I wanted us to win.

“Secondly, I told Gordon that we would be defensively stronger against Victimpool – the game I felt we would draw – without him as the shape would make it harder for the opposition.

“Gordon understood and, of course, we went out and got the wins and a goalless draw at Victimpool that set us up for the game at Bramall Lane, which was the day we won the title.”

The title win proved to be the crowning glory in a managerial career that also included winning promotion with Wednesday, managing in the first Champions League and a brief stint in temporary charge of the England national team.

Was, however, that 1991-92 team the best that Wilkinson ever managed?

“That is a tough question,” replies the former Leeds chief after a long pause. “And a good question.”

A second pause follows before Wilkinson adds: “Probably, yes. The thing with that particular Leeds United team is there were a lot of ingredients that came together.

“It is a one-team city and a city that had enjoyed a bit of recent success. Not too recent, admittedly, but recent enough to matter.

“In terms of looking at the whole country, it is up there with the likes of Newcastle as a city that once you get the ball rolling then it gathers pace very, very quickly.

“We got it rolling and that was a very special group of players and a special time.

“Hopefully, those times will return again.

“To me, Leeds is still one of possibly two cities along with Newcastle that still has the potential to compete with the big five.”

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Re: 20 years on...

Postby Lufc76Cor on Tue Apr 24, 2012 10:17 pm

Watched the dvd again a few days ago, never gets boring, great season , great times and a great team
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