The Man Who Saved Leeds United enjoyed a fairly nondescript
playing career with Sheffield Wednesday and Brighton before starting a career
as a coach at Boston United and Notts County, while making an impression on
the FA hierarchy as he became manager of the England semi-pros and the U-21s.
Wilkinson took over as manager of Notts County before moving on to Hillsborough
where he enjoyed 5 successful years, and became known for his physically
strong teams, acquiring a reputation of being a "route one" coach.
On his arrival at Elland Road, he improved the fitness and
discipline of the existing players and staved off relegation to
Division 3 in his first season, but with the inspired signing of
Gordon Strachan, and the arrival of defensive solidity in the shape of
Chris Fairclough and Mel Sterland, Leeds looked set to make a
promotion push. The escape bid got a major shot in the arm with the
biggest surprise signing of all - Vinnie Jones! Leeds went top before
Christmas, Lee Chapman's arrival brought more goals, and the title was
sealed in the last game of the season.
1991-92 saw Wilko get the better of Alex Ferguson in a season-long
tussle for the title, and things were looking bright for the following
season. Wilko always said that the title arrived a year too early.
Leeds failed to capitalise on the position, money (admittedly peanuts
by today's standards) and opportunity to make the big signings that
were needed as injuries, age and lack of squad depth were reflected in
the results. Cantona stomped off over the Pennines, Rangers knocked
Leeds out of the Champions Cup, and Leeds failed to win a single away
League game all season.
Wilko went back to the drawing board and started to rebuild the side
managing to qualify for the UEFA Cup in 1994-95, and reaching the final
of the Coca-Cola Cup the following year. A Wembley final is the peak of
many managers' careers - but this one ended with the Leeds fans screaming
for Wilkinson to go after a very disappointing performance.
The club was taken over by Caspian in the close season, and after
giving Wilko a chance to sign some players and seeing him make a decent
start to the season, the board realised that they needed some sort of excuse
to ease him out and bring in their crony George Graham. A 4-0 home defeat
by Manchester United provided the pretext, and Wilko was shown the door.
He went on to become FA Technical Director, managing the U-21 side and
even taking charge of the national side for a friendly when the FA were
taking their time over finding a replacement for Glenn Hoddle.
Bradley Mitchell says: paid over 4m for sharpie when the man utd
board thought they'd be lucky to get 2m. Sold Eric for a 1m and handed
10 years of domination to Old Trafford, nuff said...
Martin Bell says: ok some doge deals at the end but what about +
side lukic, sterland, dorigo, fairclough, whyte, strachan, wallace,
chapman, mcalister non world class but all did the job to win the
championship which is much more than risdales millions have done
since. and did eric want to stay .heres to only the second manager to
win a top league title at leeds cheers Howard