Hail the messiah who even does dour
I know nothing about soccer. David O'Leary has been sent to earth to prove this to me. Through the 1970s we expressed passing reverence to the blessed flares and sideburns trinity of Davo, Liam Brady and Frank Stapleton, yet I have to admit that Davo is the last one I imagined taking me down a metaphorical dark alley and beating some sense into me. Funny old game, that's what I say.
Yes. I have fled from the truth like an Asian kid from a Leeds nightclub, but finally I see the light. Davo is divine. He is infallible. He is omnipotent. Forgive me Davo. When Davo was appointed manager of Leeds I was afraid, very afraid. I heard the distant rumbling of a cliche avalanche. The Affable Irishman, the Genial Irishman and the Voluble Irishman. In one man the Three Tenors of the press conference would be manifest. A happy little aria for every occasion. Hands off my babies. Wouldn't it be lovely if Leeds could play Manchester United on the last day of the championship. It's been lovely here in Leeds. Make no mistake, don't get me wrong, but . . .
The final choice was between Martin O'Neill and Davo. I deemed it a black day for curt eloquence when Davo won out. A bad time for dourness also. Dourness in success is a virtue. The Scottish school of Management preaches this in Management 101. Dourness flowed in beautiful abundance from all the great Leeds managers. Carter through Revie through Wilkinson through Graham. The great Leeds team were the dukes of dour, the sultans of sullen, the maestros of misery. From Madeley to Charlton to Sniffer Clarke and with Gilesie in between they went 12 years without cracking a smile, a record which will never be broken. O'Neill could have caught the mood perfectly.
Davo seemed like too radical a break from the formula of frown. Davo was as dour as Charlie Brown. A one-club Pollyanna. You watched him at Arsenal and imagined he would get the gold watch, the nice retirement party and the job upstairs without leaving London. Lovely. I, with 30 years of Leeds-related heart stress gnawing away at my life expectancy, knew that Davo wouldn't be long for our world. How wrong can one hack be?
It transpires that Davo has that cussed blinkeredness which in the real world is a critical character default but in football is a component of genius. You think Alex Ferguson sees both sides of every story? When a Man U player becomes lost in one of those meteorological phenomena which tabloids have identified as "a red mist" Alex upholds any player's right to chop off a man's ear while dancing to Stuck in the Middle With You.
So it is with Dave. Consistency relates to league form not to thought. You can call for the best of order in the house while Dave closes his eyes and sings his 99-verse lament of how he was left out of the Icelandic Triangular Tournament: English Jack, he done me wrong. I loved playing for my country, oh tis the greatest honour to play for your country . . .
Then you can ask him about making an Australian kid like Jamie McMaster declare for England as a condition of convenience for Leeds United, or ask him about the sulk Leeds go into when Irish youths have to be released or when Harry Kewell has to leave the room. Davo does dour. That is a good thing.
There are lots of things which go above my bimbo head these days. Mine is not to ask. Take the money. Davo wouldn't start work unless guaranteed a certain sum to spend on players. He got that and then doubled it when Jimmy Floyd Hasselbaink fled. He then added half again when Rupert Murdoch scooped up a portion of the club with his cloven foot. Dave and His Dancing Babes has brought the Sky appearance money spilling in also.
With this abundance Leeds have purchased world superstar Jason Wilcox to see the team down the hard stretch of a long season. I am not complaining. I know nothing. Going right back to the beginning O'Leary has bought Bakke, Mills, Duberry, Bridges, Hay, Huckerby, Wilcox, Milosevic and Shaun Allaway. He has sold Ribeiro, Granville, Lilley, Hasselbaink, Wijnhard, Wetherall, Sharpe, And Halle. That leaves him about £12.5 million in the hole. Nobody could complain about that except me. O'Leary hasn't done badly in the transfer market, certainly no worse than George Graham, who for all his sharp suits and canniness seemed to feel that the market didn't mean a thing if it didn't have that bung thing. Overall Davo gives the impression of being a man who can leave home with a rope and come back with a horse.
Some of his signings have been investments for the future, some have been back-up buys and a few (Bakke and Bridges especially) have flowered pretty quickly. And all of them have made me roll my eyes towards heaven when I have first read about them. I know nothing, see. I have had troubles too coming to terms with the possibility that Leeds might finish four points off the top of the table with about £25 million sitting in the bank. It distresses me that whenever Leeds are mischievously associated with any player valued at more than £10 million everyone at Elland Road faints. Yet I'm coming around.
I'd rather come second or third with the sort of team Leeds have now than win the title with the kind of ordered-on-the-Internet FantasyFootie team that their rivals have. There something about watching a young team learning to play together and shave together.
Anyway breaking and entering the Palace of the Champions League with a young and exciting team which basically cost £12.5 million is something has never been done before. Getting in there with that team and money left over would be a coup akin to walking on water.
Davo's hush puppies are skimming the water right now. By now I'd have bet good brass that Davo would have drowned. His leap of faith with players like Woodgate, McPhail, Smith and Jones should have backfired by now. They should be dishrag limp after the long wet winter. They should be looking like a poor man's Coventry City by now, but here they are, annexing Europe, still annoying Manchester United and seven points clear of the chasing pack. Houllier, Wenger and Vialli? Euro Bimbos.
Meet one sinner who has repented. Born again Davoist. As the song says: Are we not men? No, we are Davo.