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Where Are They Now? – David O’Leary

This week’s ‘Where are they Now?’ segment focuses on one of the greatest footballers ever to come out of the Republic of Ireland, David O’Leary.

David O’Leary was born in London on the 2nd May 1958. His family moved to Dublin when he was three. He played for Dublin junior side Reds United before signing for Arsenal as an apprentice in 1973. O’Leary rose through the ranks at Arsenal at a rapid rate, playing for the reserves at 16 and making his debut for the first team against Burnley in August 1975. He went on to play 30 first team games in that season.

Bar the 1980/81 season in which he was injured and only played 27 times, O’Leary was a constant presence at centre half for Arsenal for the best part of a decade. He was an elegant and stylish player, preferring to pass the ball out of defence rather than clear the ball long, which was more common from defenders in English football at the time. O’Leary was a key member of Arsenal’s 1979 FA Cup winning team, when they defeated Manchester United in the final. He was also on the losing Arsenal side that played in the losing 1978 and 1980 FA Cup Final’s and 1980 European Cup Winners Cup Final.

O’Leary was made Arsenal’s captain in 1982 but was replaced by Graham Rix 18 months later. In 1989 he became Arsenal’s record appearance holder, surpassing George Armstrong’s record of 621 first team games. He was no longer first choice under George Graham at this time, with Steve Bould and Tony Adams starting most games. Despite this, O’Leary played 20 times as Arsenal won the league.

Arsenal and O’Leary won the 1991 League Championship and the League and FA Cup double in 1993. A the end of the 1992/93 season David O’Leary moved to Leeds United on a free transfer. This ended a 20 year association with Arsenal. He made 722 first team appearances scoring 14 goals. In a 2007 poll conducted by Arsenal’s website, O’Leary was voted number 14 in the their all time top 50 players.

In his first season at Leeds, O’Leary was a played regularly until he suffered an achilles injury. This injury ruled him out for the rest of the season and also kept him from playing in the following season. He retired in September 1995 at the age of 37, having played only 14 games for Leeds.

David O’Leary made his debut for the Republic of Ireland against England in 1976 as an 18 year old. He clearly made an impression on Irish Manager John Giles as O’Leary was a regular in Giles’ time in charge. Giles’ successor Eoin Hand also kept O’Leary in the side alongside centre half partner Mark Lawrenson. He made 46 appearances between 1976 and 1986.

It was when Jack Charlton took over the Irish team in 1986 when O’Leary’s International career hit a dead end. He was left out of a squad for an end of season tournament in Iceland in May 1986 by Charlton. The squad was hit with several withdrawals and O’Leary was called up. He had booked a family holiday and refused to cancel it and declined to join up with the squad. This cost him dearly as he was left out of the Irish squad for two years, culminating with him not travelling to the European Championships in 1988, Ireland’s first major international tournament.

O’Leary did go to the 1990 World Cup in Italy having reconciled Charlton but was down the pecking order, with Kevin Moran and Mick McCarthy being first choice. He went down in Irish sporting folklore when he scored the winning penalty against Romania in a second round penalty shoot out. He continued to represent his country until 1993, being involved in the 1994 World Cup Qualifying campaign. David O’Leary finished his Republic of Ireland career with 68 caps.

When George Graham was appointed Leeds United manager in 1996, he installed O’Leary as his assistant. He stayed in this position for two years until Graham left to take over as manager of Tottenham Hotspur. He was appointed to first team manager soon after Graham left and led Leeds to fourth place in his first season in charge.

The following season he led Leeds to third in the league and qualification to the Champions League. Leeds also got to the UEFA Cup Semi Final where they lost out to Galatasaray. The next season was the highlight of O’Leary’s managerial career as Leeds reached the semi final of the Champions League, losing to Valencia.

Although their record in Europe was good, Leeds’ domestic form took a hit as they finished 5th and did not qualify for the following season’s Champions League. Leeds also finished 5th the following season and O’Leary came under increased pressure due to a book he wrote entitled ‘Leeds United on Trial’ which documented a year at Leeds United but also focused on the court trial of Leeds players Lee Bowyer, Jonathan Woodgate. This book alienated a large section of fans and more importantly Leeds Chairman Peter Ridsdale.  O’Leary was sacked by Ridsdale in June 2002.

He was out of work until June 2003 when he was appointed manager at Aston Villa. In his first season Villa finished 6th and in the following seasons they finished 10th and 16th respectively. In July 2006 his contract was terminated by Villa owner Doug Ellis.

His next job took him to the United Arab Emirates and to a club called Al Ahli. His time there did not last long as he was relieved of his duties in April 2011. He had two years remaining on his contract and in 2012 he asked FIFA to intervene with the hope of gaining compensation. In May 2013 he was awarded £3.3million in compensation.

David O’Leary has not worked as a manager or coach since he left Al Ahli. He is an occasional TV pundit for Al Jazeera’s Premier League coverage and has also done some pundit work for BT Sport’s Premier League games this season.

John Keogh, Pundit Arena.

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