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O.N.R Part II - O'Neill and pray?
O.N.R Part II - O'Neill and pray?
Tuesday, 22nd Jul 2008 16:00

To further support my argument that Leicester are now our biggest rivals, I look back at the Martin O'Neill "fiasco" of October 1998 - in the wake of George Graham going to Spurs.

We all know the saga (the first of many) of Martin O’Neill and the Leeds job.


October 1998, Sir Alan Sugar has nipped in and grabbed George Graham, David O’Leary at first says he does not want the job, so Leeds are on the hunt for a new manager.


Martin O’Neill is the man for Leeds. He appears to want to meet with Leeds but the Leicester board, somewhat admirably move heaven and earth to keep him away from the M1 northbound and Peter Ridsdale until their next home game, ironically against Graham’s Spurs were an emotion charged crowd beg their MON not to leave Filbert Street.


For three whole weeks this saga continues. I try and analyse every move, every quote, every radio phone-in hoping that the eventual breakthrough comes and the talented Irishman, with a degree in law, would say tarrah to little Leicester and Ay Up mighty Leeds!


For the first time in my life, I was listening to BBC Radio Leicester and I even considered having the Leicester Mercury delivered every night to my then-home in Ashby-de-la-Zouch!


No chance! as I said John Elsom (I think his name was) the then-Leicester chairman deserves every credit for standing firm and saying “no”. As a former student of law, O’Neill clearly knew that verbal terms can be incorporated into a contract under certain circumstances and he argued there was “a gentleman’s agreement” that he could talk to other clubs, but Elsom did not budge and regrettably this was a lesson for Leeds, who talked a good game in trying to keep George Graham but soon bowed to Alan Sugar’s chequebook.


However, I detected a strong stench of hypocrisy during the circus. One of the lines frequently coming out of LE postcodes was “How dare those Yorkshire puddin’s approach a Manager under contract?” admittedly, some of publicity Pete’s patter did border on basically saying to O’Neill, “Look mate, just walk and we will smooth things over at a later date”!!!


It begs the question though, how many under-contract managers had Leicester approached before O’Neill, and how many have they approached since? As far as I remember, they took Brian Little from Darlington and Mark McGhee from Reading, admittedly both of those would jump ship and moved on to Aston Villa and Wolves respectively – but what goes around comes around! O’Neill himself had deserted Norwich to come to Filbert Street. His hapless successor Peter Taylor I am sure was at another club before Leicester came knocking. Even as recently as Martin Allen (MK Dons), they’ve been at it!


Fair enough, we knicked little Dennis Wise from Swindon Town – but for obvious reasons its best not to mention his name in the company of Leicester fans – well okay go on then if you like winding them up!


As for O’Neill, surely we have accepted that fate has dictated that the multi-talented Ulsterman was never destined to be ours? Notwithstanding our present lowly place in the Third Tier of English football, the dream died long ago. In March 2003, at a meeting I was lucky enough to attend with a small group of Leeds fans and Peter Ridsdale, Ridsdale admitted when answering MY question that O’Neill was the man they wanted to succeed David O’Leary in the summer of 2002 – however the predicament was that O’Neill and O’Leary were both sat in a TV studio together commentating on the Japan/South Korea World Cup. O’Neill then pledged to honour the remaining year left on his contract at Celtic.


In his 2007 book “United we fall”, Ridsdale also claimed that he had got O’Neill to sign a pre-contract agreement in January 2003 to take over from Terry Venables in time for the start of the 2003/04 campaign. However Ridsdale’s departure in late March 2003 effectively stonewalled the deal.



Photo: Action Images

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