When football fans talk about the greatest English managers, Don Revie is often excluded. Revie is perhaps the most controversial figure in English football and has never been forgiven for resigning as England manager and moving to the United Arab Emirates.
As a player he was crowned footballer of the year and as a manager at Leeds United between 1964 and 1974 he created the most consistent and dominant side in England.
This extensively researched biography by Christopher Evans MP attempts to reassess Revie’s contribution as both player and manager. Revie had an itinerant playing career moving from Leicester City, Hull City, Manchester City and Sunderland before he joined Leeds United.
At Manchester City he introduced the ‘Revie Plan’ playing himself as a deep lying centre forward drawing the opposing centre half out of position. In 1955 he became footballer of the year and won the FA Cup in 1956.
When he took over as manager at Leeds they were in financial difficulties and languishing in the Second Division. He transformed the club and went onto win two Championships, two Fairs Cups, an FA Cup, and a League Cup during his 13-year reign.
Evans argues that Revie was a master tactician and visionary who transformed the game. His many innovations included using scientists to monitor player fitness, psychologists to improve mindsets and the commissioning of dossiers on opponents.
Around 1963/64 Revie told his son, “One day son there’ll be people coming for lunch at 12, not coming at five to three. There’ll be sponsorship on the shirts. There’ll be television worldwide and it will be a complete revolution.”
But Revie was also a man of many contradictions, and he was not immune to using dirty tricks. For example, he got the Leeds Fire Brigade to drench the Elland Road pitch before a European game with Hungarian team Ujpest Dozsa. Ironically though in quagmire conditions it was Leeds who struggled with the pitch.
He was also accused of giving bribes to players to throw games and gave money to Alan Ball when he was a Blackpool player as an incentive to sign for Leeds, although he eventually signed for Everton.
Revie was an insecure man and was obsessed with money. He told teammate Ken Barnes at Manchester City, “There is one thing which will tell you if you are a good player: that is how much money you’ve got in the bank.”
Revie was very successful during his 13 years at Leeds and he was able to develop a close relationship with his players and support staff. But with England he had limited time to develop that relationship and ultimately, he failed at international level and fled to the Middle East.
Revie was certainly a flawed man, but he made a massive contribution to modern football with his innovative ideas.
This is an intriguing and absorbing biography and Evans makes a very strong case, that despite his faults, Revie should take his place alongside Sir Matt Busby, Bill Shankly and Sir Alex Ferguson as one of the greatest managers this country has ever seen.
Don Revie: The Biography by Christopher Evans MP published by Bloomsbury Sport, Price £20.
A version of this review first appeared in the March/April 2022 edition of Late Tackle magazine.