Ahead of Championship leaders Leeds‘ visit to Nottingham Forest on New Year’s day, talkSPORT.com looks at the time United signed Leicester’s Gary McAliister, getting one over on former manager Brian Clough in the process.
“Leeds?!” he said, then the phone went down quite abruptly.”
And that was how McAllister’s conversation with Forest’s legendary manager Brian Clough ended when he informed him of his decision to join Howard Wilkinson’s Leeds instead in 1990.
According to the Yorkshire Evening Post, Leeds’ initial £850,000 bid was rejected by the Foxes, which had initially put Forest in the driving seat for the player’s signature, but McAllister didn’t want to go to the City Ground – apparently he wasn’t too impressed with Forest’s supremo.
The story goes that Cloughie, who spent 44 days as Leeds manager in 1974, was close to signing the midfielder, but after turning up late to a meeting with the player, spotted his cowboy boots and asked a series of pointed questions about his private life.
“It was bad timing. Looking back, I’d have loved to play under Clough in his pomp, but I had options and just felt Leeds were a better fit. Brian wasn’t impressed when I said I was going to Leeds,” McAllister told Four Four Two about his decision to move to Elland Road.
A tribunal eventually set his transfer fee at £1m and Leeds were soon in the ascendancy, with McAllister signing up for their first season back in the top division after eight years away.
And just to make sure he got his man, United chairman Bill Fotherby actually tracked McAllister down to a golf course in Leicester to convince him to sign on the spot.
They were making a real statement of intent.
Replacing Vinnie Jones with Gary Macca, the club now had genuine class in the middle along with Gordon Strachan and academy products Gary Speed and David Batty. It’s a quartet that has been greatly celebrated in the years since. Theirs was “a rare chemistry,” according to manager Howard Wilkinson.
After all, McAllister is a man Steven Gerrard said he learned from. “I knew there was a player there that I could learn off both on and off the pitch,” the Liverpool legend said about the man who now his assistant at Rangers.
Promoted as winners of Division Two, McAllister got to work straight away as Leeds finished fourth in his first season and helped Lee Chapman score a career-best 21 league goals. Wilkinson was building a team capable of becoming champions of England and they realised the dream in 1992; the final season before the Premier League’s formation.
The decision to choose Wilkinson over Cloughie was vindicated. “I came to Leeds with the expectation of winning things,” he said after the league triumph. “And to win the league championship in my second season – I’m ahead of schedule.”
And for a man who later won the treble – UEFA Cup, League Cup and FA Cup – with Liverpool in 2001, his one and only league winners medal takes pride of place on his mantle.
“If you speak to the greatest players – the guys with more medals than they can count – they’ll all tell you that championships count for most,” McAllister said.
“You can get lucky in cups. Four or five good draws and you’re well down the line. But a full season, against 21 clubs as it was back then, is the true test or skill sets, of endurance and consistency. The treble at Liverpool might never be repeated but would Liverpool swap that for the title? I think maybe they would.
“It has to be said that to break the hold of the big boys back then, Manchester United, Arsenal and Liverpool, was amazing. You can’t pretend that Howard did it with a big budget.”
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Nottingham Forest v Leeds is live on talkSPORT 2 at 3pm on Tuesday 1 January.