DON Revie, John Giles, Billy Bremner, Peter Lorimer.
The names roll off Brian McDermott’s tongue when he conjures up just a few of the legends he can now count as company in the history of Leeds United.
“You look back on all the great players and managers they’ve had,” he purrs, “even Jock Stein managed this team. Who was I to not come to this club…?”
But the truth is McDermott almost didn’t.
In the weeks after being sacked by Reading, the former Arsenal trainee was enjoying some free time – unemployed for the first time since he was 16.
He popped over to Dublin, watched some games, read some books and found some time to play the guitar.
Then Leeds rang.
Neil Warnock walked out the door when promotion to the Premier League became an impossible task, and left behind a club facing a battle to avoid relegation to League One.
United were looking for someone to help build a team to challenge next season – but McDermott didn’t see Revie’s club, he saw a potential CV-burner.
“Neil (Warnock) went, and I was contacted. They spoke to my representative first but I was not interested in going anywhere until the summer.
“The Leeds situation wasn’t great. I know (then caretaker boss) Neil Redfearn well, we did our UEFA licence together and I met him one day.
“He said he’d do the Sheffield Wednesday game and wouldn’t do more.
“They’d just lost to Charlton and I could sense, not a panic, but an edginess, they needed someone in before the end of the season.
“I said ‘I’m not doing it’. There were five games to go and I’d be putting my reputation on the line, I didn’t know the situation and I’d heard all sort of stories.”
Reading were joint-bottom of the Premier League when McDermott was ruthlessly sacked in March, his minor miracles the season before quickly forgotten as the club forlornly chased top flight safety.
Now, an arguably bigger club were on his trail – but Leeds were 17th in the Championship and two relegations in one season would not enhance any manager’s reputation.
In the end, some reassuring words from Chief Executive Shaun Harvey ensured the 52-year-old went to Elland Road.
The club has been clouded in rumour and speculation since being taken over by Dubai-based GFH capital in December, and while McDermott was happy with what he heard, he insists he won’t be quiet if the boardroom don’t keep their part of the deal.
“Shaun made it clear he wanted me to come,” he explained. “I had to think long and hard, and we went out for a meal.
“I decided I’d take it if I heard the right things.
“I needed goodwill and trust from them. I’ve got that. There is stuff I need doing, and there’s no reason up to now to think that won’t be the case.
“But if that is the case, I will be very open about that. That’s very important. It’s been 10 years now trying to get back into the division they want to.
“There can’t be any moaning, no gossiping, we all have to go the same direction. The club’s anthem is Marching on Together – and that sums it up, that’s the only way the club can go forward.”
McDermott took charge of the club 32 days after he was dumped by Reading, and enjoyed the perfect start with two victories that helped secure the club’s place in the Championship.
He signed a three year deal, and denies there was any clause in his contract in the event of relegation.
“It could’ve happened – no doubt about that, that’s the risk I took,” he admitted.
“But no, I made a commitment, and people know me; if I make it, I make it. So once I did that, that was it.
“I took the contract on good will, on the fact they really wanted to me come, to be their manager.
“I thought ‘this is Leeds’, sometimes you have to take that opportunity.”
With only five games to go when he took charge, McDermott was in a hurry – and took charge of the team one day after meeting the players for the first time.
“I went there on the Thursday or Friday and I thought to myself, there’s not many games to go, I’m not sitting in the stands, I have to get straight into it,” he said before he took the reigns for the Sheffield Wednesday clash.
“We picked a way of playing, we were losing 1-0 at half time, but then we won the game. It was massively important.
“I was involved in lots of important games and I knew how big that was.
“We hadn’t won for a while, and then we played on the Tuesday against Burnley and played really well, and deserved to win. I knew we were safe then.”
He’s already planning for next year, with a few Irish players and some of his former Reading charges on the transfer shopping list, as well as a bit of DIY around the training ground.
McDermott’s already spent more time with the reserves and academy sides than his predecessor and admits he wants to lay some real foundations at a club that can take him – and its fans, back to the big time.
“The club have spent ten years trying to find a way out of this league, and now they’ve given me a long term deal…they want to build a club, that’s the vision,” he says.
“I’d have taken a one-year rolling contract, but this is a different way and they want us to be competitive.
“It will be different from Reading, but I’ll have no problem in terms of expectation. I like it. I’m enjoying it already.”
* * *
LEAVING Reading was a shock to McDermott, who admits he had no idea he was going to be sacked until thirty seconds before he was given the boot.
The new Leeds boss was stunned when his 13-years at the Madejski Stadium was brought to an end in a meeting that lasted just two minutes.
McDermott thought he was going to plot Manchester United’s downfall with Reading owner Anton Zingarevich two days after losing to Aston Villa last month, but instead he was given the heave-ho.
“Can anything prepare you for it? Not really,” he admits.
“It is what it is… he made a decision, I didn’t realise it was going to happen to me until 30 seconds before it happened. We spoke regularly enough, so I thought it was just about playing United or how I see things in the future.
“It was just made a couple of sentences, that was it. I was out of there in two minutes.
“It is absolutely cut throat, but I’m fine with it. It was a shock at the time. It took me a couple of days to come to terms with it – then a few days after that, it’s “I’m not going to work”… it’s very, very odd.
“It hits you for a while, but you get over that, and get on with it. It never affected my confidence at all.
“I feel I’m a better manger for what I did at Reading. I learned so much, learned about the Premier League and what’s required – I know a lot now I didn’t know six months ago.”
Zingarevich claims McDermott’s failure to spend money he gave him was part of the reason he had to let the Irishman go, something the manager dismisses.
“I tried,” he argued, “we signed four players in January and I tried to sign two more; Gylfi Sigurdsson and Tom Ince, but we couldn’t agree a deal with the clubs.
“I couldn’t spend anything because the clubs didn’t agree fees. It’s very simple, there’s no hidden agenda.
“If I go up again, I will talk to the owners and tell them they have to spend right in the summer. “Southampton spent £30m, West Ham and QPR spent a lot.
“It doesn’t guarantee success, but I always felt we had a certain model, even if we spent that much money, which wasn’t a fortune, I felt we had parachute payments, and if we dropped down we’d get back up again…that’s the kinda feeling I’d been given.”