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When we think of Don Revie, three things tend to come to mind. Firstly, as Leeds fans, we think of the victories and the glory. He may have played a style of football that would have seen his team pick up four red cards a game in the modern era, but back then it was firm but fair, and he pushed a ‘win at all costs’ mentality onto his players that made Leeds United the envy of everybody else. ‘Dirty Leeds’ we might have been, but we were also Football League Champions twice under his stewardship. The end justifies the means, and for a lot of us, having a little bit of an edge to the game enhanced the viewing experience.
The second is his ill-starred time in charge of the national team. For whatever reason, England and Don Revie just wasn’t a good fit. Whether the players from other clubs resented him for how he sent Leeds out to play, or his difficult relationship with the men who headed up the FA at the time made the job impossible from the start, it’s difficult to say. He attracted criticism for chopping and changing players too often, and eventually, frustrated by both the job and the response he was getting from the press, he quit.
The third is, of course, is tempestuous relationship with Brian Clough. To say the two men hated each other would be an understatement. They were titans locked in battle, with a rivalry that made Ferguson - Wenger look like a playground dispute. So acrimonious was their relationship that it provided most of the plot for the book “The Damned United”, which later went on to become a successful film.
What most people don’t give much thought or consideration to was his time in the Middle East, and what impact it had on sport within the region.
The Egyptian Farewell
Ask the average football fan what they know about football in Egypt, and unless they’re an expert, you’ll probably get a fairly blank look. When we think about Egypt, we think about the Nile, the Pyramids, and the Pharaohs. Those are all fine things to be known for, but the history there goes back literally thousands of years. That’s the stereotype of Egypt that some modern Egyptians would like to shift; but it casts a long shadow. Egypt’s tourism industry is completely based around its past. Its culture has been pillaged by Hollywood for ‘The Mummy’ and a hundred films like it. Gamblers logging onto Egypt Slots are greeted with a huge choice of online slot titles featuring all the iconic images of Egypt, and the nation’s history. They make for dramatic backdrops and good themes, and people love them. They wouldn’t spend their money gambling there otherwise. But in terms of everything that’s happened in the thousand plus years since, there’s a bit of a gap.
Mo Salah is probably the only name the average fan could come up with. He’s undoubtedly the greatest Egyptian footballer of all time, but it’s a fairly thin field. Those who’ve been following Premier League football a little longer might also be able to name Mido and Amr Zaki, but that’s probably it. Sadly for Don Revie, virtually nobody; not even most Leeds fans; know that Egypt is where he ended his managerial career, in charge of Al-Ahly.
For Revie, it was a final validation of his career. After failure with England, and a subsequent poor spell in charge of the UAE national side, he signed off with a league and cup double. It may have been the Egyptian league, but it was a final victory for a man who most people believed wasn’t capable of it anymore. It was affirmation. But how had he ended up out there in the first place? Was he, as many people said at the time, a mercenary, tempted by Middle Eastern money? Or was he a visionary?
The Revie Revolution
If you believe Don’s son, Duncan, the answer is definitely ‘visionary’. Yes, the money was nice, but had he been treated better by the British press and the FA of the time, he’d never have taken it. These days, when we hear of footballers or managers taking jobs in Dubai, or the Middle East in general, we assume that it purely comes down to the pay and nothing else. The Dubai of the time was a little different. There was money there, but nothing like the scale of what exists now, and certainly no skyscrapers. The UAE wasn’t well known, but it was ambitious and forward thinking, and wanted to make a mark on the sporting world. They thought Revie was the man to do it.
He didn’t quite take the nation to a World Cup himself, but Duncan says he was proud of his achievements there, and started the ball rolling for qualification to happen. Revie went to the Middle East with ideas that football coaches there had never encountered before; new tactical ideas and basic requirements for professionalism from players. Revie’s services as a manager were almost secondary to the knowledge he could bring about what was needed to foster a successful sporting team or a successful sporting institution. He helped the Government build from the ground up, from the training facilities to the coaching philosophy. He left his job as UAE manager in 1980, as he’d still not mastered Arabic. Ten years later, they qualified for the World Cup in Italy. Revie wasn’t the man who’d got them over the line, but he’d built the foundations.
Today, the UAE is still forging out into the world of sport, attaching itself to every competition it can in an attempt to further its own reputation. We’ve seen the Abu Dhabi Grand Prix created, major golf and tennis tournaments, and boxing come to the country in recent years. To say that Revie is directly, or even indirectly responsible for any of them happening is something of a stretch. Every journey, though, begins with a first step, and the appointment of a well-respected and well-known football manager to a national team the world had never heard of in the late 1970s might just have been that first step.
Don Revie started with victory in Leeds, and ended with victory in Egypt. Inbetween, he became the architect of UAE’s sporting future.