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Best Leeds United Managers: Who is the Greatest LUFC Manager of All Time?

Leeds United sacked their manager Jesse Marsch in February 2023 after he’d been in the job for just shy of a year. At the time of writing, Leeds are languishing towards the bottom of the Premier League and desperately seeking a new boss who can haul the side to safety.

But although these are tough times for Leeds United (and their supporters), we thought we’d take a look back to some of the best managers to have occupied the dugout at Elland Road. These names might just provide inspiration to whoever is appointed to succeed Marsch. And we begin with the legend that was Donald George Revie.

Don Revie

  • From/To – 1 March 1961 to 4 July 1974
  • Games in Charge – 740
  • Win Percentage – 53.2%
  • Honours – First Division Title (1968/69, 1973/74), FA Cup (1971/72), League Cup (1967/68), Charity Shield (1969), Second Division Title (1963/64), Inter-Cities Fairs Cup (1967/68, 1970/71)
Don Revie Statue
Image: Jake, flickr

Okay, the great Don Revie might not have been quite so great when he was in charge of the England national team, but at Leeds he could do little wrong. During his tenure of more than 13 years, Revie led the Whites to two First Division (as it was known in the old days before the Premier League) titles, and his side were runners-up on five occasions. He also took them all the way in both the FA Cup and League Cup and added a couple of Inter-Cities Fairs Cups (the forerunner of the UEFA Cup) for good measure.

Revie is the longest-serving Leeds boss in history and took charge of the club for far more games (740) than the next man on our list, Howard Wilkinson (411 games). More importantly, when it comes to assessing who is the best, Revie had the best win percentage (53.24) of any permanent Leeds boss (though Neil Redfern had a 75% win percentage during one of his caretaker stints, this was for only four games and his overall win rate as Leeds boss was 38%).

Frankly, if the purpose of this article was to pick the best Leeds manager ever, we could pack up and go home now. No one else gets near Revie when it comes to honours, longevity or the impact he had on the club. Okay, it would have been nice for Leeds fans had the 1973 European Cup Winners’ Cup gone their way. But there’s little doubt Revie left Leeds in a far better situation than when he started as their manager. There’s also little doubt that Leeds fans wouldn’t have expected to wait almost two decades for their next top-flight title.

Howard Wilkinson

  • From/To – 10 October 1988 to 10 September 1996
  • Games in Charge – 411
  • Win Percentage – 43.3%
  • Honours – First Division Title (1991/92), Second Division Title (1989/90), Charity Shield (1992)

When Howard Wilkinson took the Leeds job (having moved from Yorkshire rivals Sheffield Wednesday), Leeds had spent six seasons in the second tier of English football having dropped out of the top flight in 1982. Although Wilkinson didn’t manage to get the Whites promoted at the first time of asking (they finished 10th in 1988/89), he led them to the Division Two title in his first full season in charge.

Wilkinson put together a talented group of players that included the likes of Gary McAllister, Gary Speed, Gordon Strachan and Lee Chapman. In their first season back in the top division, Wilkinson led his side to a creditable fourth-place finish. But it was the following campaign that would really cement Wilkinson’s position as one of Leeds United’s greatest managers ever.

During the close season, Wilkinson made a couple of fine signings to bolster his squad, including Tony Dorigo, Steve Hodge and Rod Wallace. But it was a mid-season signing that really made a difference in the push for the title: a certain Frenchman by the name of Eric Cantona. Leeds won the title by four points with Manchester United ending as runners-up (before the Red Devils took the English game by the scruff of its neck in the following couple of decades).

Things didn’t go so well for Wilkinson or Leeds the following term (which was the inaugural season of the Premier League) when they finished 17th. But a couple of fifth-placed finishes followed before a 13th-place finish in the 1995/96 season, and a bad start to the following campaign, ultimately cost Wilkinson his job. But as the only manager other than Revie who has led Leeds to top-flight glory, Wilkinson must certainly be regarded as one of the best bosses the club has had.

Marcelo Bielsa

  • From/To – 15 June 2018 to 27 February 2022
  • Games in Charge – 170
  • Win Percentage – 47.1%
  • Honours – EFL Championship (2019/20)

Argentina Flag Against Bright Cloudy Sky

With the nickname El Loco Bielsa (that means “The Crazy Bielsa”), there was no doubt that Argentine coach Marcelo Bielsa was “a character”. But for all his controversy (such as the so-called “spygate” affair) and his sometimes colourful press conferences, Bielsa was a darn good manager, loved passionately by his players and the Leeds faithful. He also achieved something that no Leeds manager had since Wilkinson: promotion to the top flight.

When Bielsa took the reins at Leeds, the club had been out of the Premier League for 14 seasons, including three campaigns in the third tier, League One. Bielsa had an instant positive effect on the team and he led them to third place in the Championship in his first season in charge. Unfortunately, Leeds lost in the play-offs that year. But there was no mistake during the successful 2019/20 season when Bielsa led his men to the Championship title with an impressive total of 93 points.

A ninth-place finish in their first Premier League season in almost 20 years was also mighty impressive given Leeds had been away from the limelight for so long. They also won huge plaudits, plus the support of many neutrals, thanks to their swashbuckling style and attacking football.

But the 2021/22 campaign saw the Whites flirting with the relegation zone. When Leeds lost four on the spin in February 2022, Bielsa was given his marching orders. Ultimately they narrowly avoided the drop, ending the campaign in 17th position on 38 points and so at least Bielsa wasn’t responsible for Leeds falling out of the top flight. And given he got them up there (and had a better overall win percentage than most (including Howard Wilkinson, Jimmy Armfield, George Graham and Terry Venables), we’re happy to suggest that Bielsa was indeed one of Leeds’ greatest-ever bosses.

Leeds United’s Best Manager? Only One Contender…

When all’s said and done, there was only really ever one man to name the GOAT of Leeds managers: the late, great Don Revie. Other bosses who didn’t quite make it onto our list include:

  • David O’Leary – With a win rate of almost 50% and an attacking style of football that pleased both Leeds fans and neutrals, O’Leary came close to leading Leeds United to Champions League glory in the 2000/01 season. Alas, they went out in the semis to Valencia, and Leeds went on something of a downward spiral in the following seasons, both on and off the pitch.
  • Jimmy Armfield – Armfield took the job after Brian Clough’s ill-fated stint in 1974 and promptly led Leeds to their first (and only) European Cup final. How things might have been different if Leeds had won that day in 1975. Unfortunately for Leeds (and for Armfield’s chances of making it onto our list of best-ever Leeds managers), Bayern Munich won a very controversial clash 2-0.