David O'Leary

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David O'Leary
David O'Leary (1981).jpg
David O'Leary in 1981
Personal information
Full name David Anthony O'Leary
Date of birth (1958-05-02) 2 May 1958 (age 63)
Place of birth Stoke Newington, London, England
Height 1.84 m (6 ft 0 in)
Position(s) Centre back
Youth career
1973–1975 Arsenal
Senior career*
1975–1993 Arsenal 558 (11)
1993–1995 Leeds United 10 (0)
National team
1976–1993 Republic of Ireland 68 (1)
Teams managed
1998–2002 Leeds United
2003–2006 Aston Villa
2010–2011 Al-Ahli
* Senior club appearances and goals counted for the domestic league only

David Anthony O'Leary (born 2 May 1958) is an Irish football manager and former player. His managerial career began at Leeds United, and later he managed Aston Villa. He most recently worked as the manager of Al-Ahli Dubai. The majority of his 20-year playing career was spent as a central defender at Arsenal. O'Leary's tally of 722 appearances for the North London side stands as a club record. [1]


Club career

O'Leary was born in Stoke Newington, London, on 2 May 1958, and moved to live in Dublin at the age of four. [2]


A Shelbourne schoolboy player, O'Leary signed for Arsenal as an apprentice in 1973. He soon progressed through the ranks at Highbury, playing in the reserves at the age of 16. He made his debut for Arsenal against Burnley on 16 August 1975, and despite being only 17, went on to make 30 appearances that season. For the next 10 years, he was ever-present in the Arsenal side, playing more than 40 matches a season (except for 1980–81, when he was injured and only played 27).

A calm and collected central defender, O'Leary was noted for his good positioning and elegant style of play. He won his first major honour with Arsenal when he played in their 3–2 win over Manchester United in the 1979 FA Cup Final. He also played in the 1978 and 1980 Cup finals, and the 1980 Cup Winners' Cup final, all of which Arsenal lost. In 1982, O'Leary became club captain, but relinquished it to Graham Rix 18 months later. [3] [4]

O'Leary broke numerous appearance records at Arsenal; he was the youngest person to reach the 100- and 200-match milestones, and he made his 400th appearance while still only 26. He passed George Armstrong's all-time record of 621 first-team games in November 1989. By this time, O'Leary was no longer automatic first choice (with the partnership of Tony Adams and Steve Bould at the centre of George Graham's defence), but he still turned in over 20 appearances as Arsenal won the 1988–89 First Division title due to a 2–0 win at Anfield on the final day of the season.

O'Leary won another league title in 1991 and an FA Cup and League Cup double in 1993, though by this time he was mainly used as a substitute. He holds Arsenal's all-time record for appearances, with 722 first-team games, [1] [5] in a 20-year-long association with the club. In a poll to compile the list of the club's greatest-ever players, O'Leary was voted 14th. [3] O'Leary assumes the role of a club ambassador for Arsenal. [6]

Leeds United

O'Leary joined Leeds on a free transfer in 1993 after 19 years at Highbury. O'Leary played in the Leeds side until he suffered an achilles' tendon injury. He was still on the club's payroll at the beginning of the 1995–96 season, but that September, he gave in to his injury and announced his retirement from football at the age of 37, after only 14 appearances in all competitions.

International career

O'Leary's international debut with the Republic of Ireland came as a teenager in a 1–1 draw with England in 1976. Following the appointment of Jack Charlton, O'Leary was frozen out of the international setup for 2 years. After being left out of a squad for a mini tournament in Iceland in May 1986, O'Leary booked a family holiday, which he decided not to cancel when he was eventually asked up to the squad following several withdrawals. O'Leary did not feature until November 1988, thus missing out on Euro 88. The highlight of his 68-cap international career came in the 1990 World Cup. With Ireland in a penalty shootout with Romania, Packie Bonner saved Daniel Timofte's last penalty. O'Leary then stepped up to take the decisive final penalty to win the shootout 5–4 to take Ireland to the quarterfinals. O'Leary's strike has since been voted as the greatest moment in Irish footballing history. [7] [8] [9]

Shortly after the World Cup, O'Leary scored his only goal for the Republic of Ireland in a 5–0 win over Turkey in a Euro 92 qualifier. [10]

Managerial career

When the former Arsenal manager George Graham was put in charge at Leeds United in September 1996, O'Leary was installed as his assistant. He remained in this position for two years.

Leeds United

The Leeds United board offered several candidates the manager's position following George Graham's departure, but such deals fell through. During this time, O'Leary's Leeds side did creditably well in league matches. As this was the case, O'Leary was subsequently promoted to manager at the Yorkshire club.

At the end of the 1998–1999 season, Leeds finished fourth in the Premier League and qualified for the UEFA Cup. Their 1999-2000 UEFA Cup campaign ended in the Cup semifinal with defeat to the Turkish side Galatasaray, following the murders of two Leeds fans during violence the night before. On the domestic front, Leeds finished third in the Premier League and qualified for the Champions League. It was their first campaign at this level since the 1992–93 season. During this time, O'Leary endorsed a Game Boy Color computer game entitled O'Leary Manager 2000 , which was released by Ubi Soft in 2000.

Leeds reached the semifinals of the Champions League in 2000-01, where they lost to eventual runners-up Valencia. Their Premier League form also dipped slightly and O'Leary's men had to settle for a UEFA Cup place, finishing fourth in the last season before the Champions League qualification spots for the English Premiership expanded from the top three to the top four. Although there was little indication of this at the time, this was a serious failure for the club because Peter Ridsdale had borrowed £60 million against future gate receipts, budgeting for prolonged Champions League involvement.

The 2001–02 season began well for Leeds. They frequently topped the table during the first half of the season and were Premier League leaders on 1 January 2002, but a loss of form in the second half of the season had them slump into fifth place, again just outside the Champions League qualification spots, meaning that they would again have to settle for a UEFA Cup place.

This period was thrown into turmoil by the involvement of four players, including first-teamers Jonathan Woodgate and Lee Bowyer, in an incident in Leeds city centre that ended in the assault and injury of an Asian student in January 2000, with the second trial ending in December 2001. O'Leary, to some extent, alienated the fans and also Ridsdale, by writing a book, Leeds United on Trial,[ citation needed ] that some[ who? ] saw as cashing in on the troubles the club had suffered.

By June 2002, O'Leary had spent almost £100 million on new players in less than four years for no reward in terms of trophies, but he had never finished outside the top five as a manager. Ridsdale sacked O'Leary as Leeds manager in the summer of 2002, replacing him with Terry Venables. O'Leary's departure signalled a downhill spiral for the club – highly attributable to the financial state that saw the sale of several key players, which saw three more managers (Venables, Peter Reid, and Eddie Gray) come and go before the club was finally relegated from the Premier League in 2004 with £80 million debt, and fell into League One (the third tier of the league) three years later. This fall from grace led to the phrase "doing a Leeds".[ citation needed ]

O'Leary's fame at Leeds rests upon his promotion of a series of younger players, Jonathan Woodgate, Lee Bowyer, Alan Smith, Harry Kewell, Stephen McPhail, Eirik Bakke, Ian Harte, and Danny Mills (signed for £4 million from Charlton Athletic). He promoted several members of the youth team into an exciting Leeds side that played a pressing game relying on youthful enthusiasm. [11]

In an interview regarding the decline of Leeds, O'Leary stated, "I never wanted to leave Leeds. The fans are fantastic to me here. I hope they stay up because I had great times at the club." [12]

O'Leary has since stated that he would like the chance to return as manager of Leeds United, [13] after Peter Ridsdale left the club. The news was met with mixed views from Leeds United fans.

Aston Villa

O'Leary was linked with various other vacant manager's jobs throughout the 2002–03 season. He was hot favourite to become manager of Sunderland when Peter Reid was sacked in October and again when Howard Wilkinson was sacked in March of that season, [14] but O'Leary remained out of work until June 2003, when he was appointed manager of Aston Villa.

By the beginning of November 2003, Aston Villa were hovering just above the relegation zone. O'Leary's team finished in sixth place – one place too low for European qualification due to Millwall's FA Cup Final appearance and Middlesbrough's League Cup triumph.


In 2004–05, Villa finished 10th in the league, a drop from the previous season. Despite this, O'Leary once again avoided any risk of relegation and signed A.C. Milan's international defender Martin Laursen, Carlton Cole, and French midfielder Mathieu Berson.


Despite six summer acquisitions including Milan Baroš and Kevin Phillips, a series of poor results had Villa hovering dangerously above the relegation zone going into December, with just 17 points from 17 games. However, an improved winter period had them move slightly up the league, with victories over Everton (4–0), Middlesbrough (4–0) and a point against runaway leaders Chelsea. In the end, Villa finished 16th, just two places above the relegation zone. Following the relegation of local rivals Birmingham City and West Bromwich Albion, Villa were the only Midlands side playing Premier League football in 2006–07.

On 19 July 2006, O'Leary's contract as Aston Villa manager was terminated by mutual consent. Chairman Doug Ellis sold the club within a few months to Randy Lerner, and Martin O'Neill was appointed as manager.


O'Leary returned to management on 4 July 2010 with United Arab Emirates club Al-Ahli Dubai, where his first decision was to install former Italy captain Fabio Cannavaro as the new skipper of the team. On 2 April 2011, O'Leary was relieved of his duties following a 5-1 defeat at the hands of Al Jazira. [15] On 22 April 2011, Al-Ahli officially announced its decision to sack O'Leary with his assistant coach Roy Aitken. [16] When he was sacked, O'Leary had two years remaining on a three-year contract. In March 2012, he asked FIFA for help in getting compensation from Al-Ahli for the early termination of his contract. [17] In May 2013, he won $5.2 million (£3.34 million) compensation. The dispute was settled by FIFA's players' status committee. Al-Ahli claimed O'Leary had abandoned his post, despite previously stating he had been dismissed. O'Leary had won just six of his 15 league games in charge. [18] [19]

Personal life

O'Leary currently[ when? ] lives in Yorkshire and is married to Joy. O'Leary's brother Pierce O'Leary played for Shamrock Rovers and Celtic and was capped seven times for the Republic of Ireland. His nephew, Ryan O'Leary, declined to play for the Republic of Ireland Under 21s, choosing to play for Scotland, the country of his birth. [6]

O'Leary was involved in a complex tax avoidance scheme, O'Leary v. McKinlay (Inspector of Taxes) that was struck down in the Chancery Court in December 1990. The scheme involved the loan of £266,000 (equivalent to £609,025in 2019) by Arsenal, O'Leary's club, to trustees in Jersey, where it was held for his benefit. [20]

Playing statistics


Appearances and goals by club, season and competition [21] [22]
ClubSeasonLeague FA Cup League Cup Europe Total
Arsenal 1975–76 First Division 270102000300
1976–77 332304100403
1977–78 411616000532
1978–79 3721101050542
1979–80 341906090581
1980–81 241102000271
1981–82 401105040501
1982–83 361507020501
1983–84 360104000410
1984–85 360303000420
1985–86 350507000470
1986–87 390409000520
1987–88 230406100331
1988–89 260100000270
1989–90 341304000411
1990–91 211601000281
1991–92 250101000270
1992–93 Premier League 110401000160
Leeds United 1993–94 Premier League100
1994–95 00
Career total56811


Appearances and goals by national team and year [23]
National teamYearAppsGoals
Republic of Ireland 197620

Managerial statistics

As of 22 October 2010
Leeds United Flag of England.svg 1 October 199827 June 20022031014755320217049.75
Aston Villa Flag of England.svg 20 May 200319 July 2006131473549172176035.88
Al-Ahli Flag of the United Arab Emirates.svg 4 July 201022 April 201173221413042.86



Arsenal [24] [25] [26]




See also

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  2. "David O'Leary: Life and Times". The Irish Times.
  3. 1 2 "Greatest 50 Players: 14. David O'Leary". Arsenal.com. Archived from the original on 10 October 2008.
  4. "Graham Rix: Profile". Arsenal.com. Archived from the original on 6 September 2015.
  5. "Arsenal Weekly – David O'Leary exclusive". Arsenal F.C. News. 5 November 2015. Retrieved 19 April 2016.
  6. 1 2 Wilson, Jeremy (December 2016). "David O'Leary:Feature". The Telegraph.
  7. Wright, Rob (25 June 2015). "As it happened: World Cup Ireland v Romania". RTE.ie.
  8. "It's 25 years since David O'Leary scored that penalty". Irish Post.co.uk.
  9. "Ireland's World Cup joy: David O'Leary recalls his penalty v Romania". Sky Sports.
  10. "Republic of Ireland 5 – Turkey 0". UEFA.com.
  11. "David O'Leary's 'babies' and the best-ever young Premier League teams". The 42.ie.
  12. Leeds still have time – O'Leary BBC Sport 15 April 2007
  13. O'Leary Wants His Job Back! – The Scratching Shed [ permanent dead link ] 30 June 2009
  14. "Stadium of Light contenders". BBC News. 10 March 2003.
  15. David O'Leary to be sacked as coach of Dubai side Al Ahli - report - Goal.com
  16. David O'Leary sacked by Dubai's Al Ahli football team - ArabianBusiness.com
  17. "David O'Leary asks for Fifa help in Al Ahli contract dispute". BBC Sport. 6 March 2012. Retrieved 10 March 2012.
  18. Gibson, Owen (3 May 2013). "David O'Leary wins more than £3m in compensation after sacking by Al Ahli". The Guardian. Retrieved 13 January 2014.
  19. "O'Leary wins Al Ahli dispute". Sporting Life. 3 May 2013. Retrieved 13 January 2014.
  20. "Footballer's tax benefit scheme fails". The Times (63888). 13 December 1990. p. 33. Retrieved 25 March 2021.
  21. David O'LEARY Archived 3 July 2009 at the Wayback Machine
  22. "David O'LEARY - League appearances for Arsenal. - Arsenal FC".
  23. David O'Leary at National-Football-Teams.com
  24. "Sporting Spotlight: David O'Leary". BBC Sport. 19 December 2012. Retrieved 31 May 2021.
  25. "FA Community Shield 1991 » Teams". worldfootball.net. Retrieved 31 May 2021.
  26. David O'Leary at FootballDatabase.eu
  27. Lynch. The Official P.F.A. Footballers Heroes. p. 143.
  28. "Manager profile: David O'Leary". Premier League. Retrieved 15 September 2018.
Sporting positions
Preceded by
Pat Rice
Arsenal captain
Succeeded by
Graham Rix