Premier League Clubs Managed: Arsenal (1992-1995), Leeds United (1996-1998), Tottenham Hotspur (1998-2001)
George Graham enjoyed a successful managerial career, notably at Arsenal where he managed to guide the club to two league championships and multiple cup success in domestic competitions.
He had a distinguished playing career and was part of the famous Gunners’ squad that won the league and cup double in 1971. Graham spent six seasons at Highbury, playing over 220 games. He ultimately finished his playing time with a brief spell in America in 1978, figuring for California Surf.
After learning under the tutelage of Terry Venables on the coaching staff at Crystal Palace and Queens Park Rangers, Graham first became a manager in December 1982 at Millwall. He spent four years at the Den, steering them from the bottom of the old Third Division to promotion during his reign.
Former club Arsenal came calling following Don Howe’s resignation in 1986. Having not won a trophy in seven years, the Arsenal board were keen to get the club back into silverware contention during a time where the Merseyside teams were sweeping the majority of the trophies. He added a stricter discipline to the dressing room and Arsenal instantly became winners. They won the League Cup in his first season in charge.
Building a team around young skipper Tony Adams and a tight defence, the flair of Paul Merson, Alan Smith and Michael Thomas took Arsenal towards the league title in sensational circumstances in 1989. Thomas scored the vital second goal on the final evening of the season at Anfield to win the game against Liverpool FC. The 2-0 victory was enough to snatch the title away from the Reds’ grasp. Two seasons later, he led the North Londoners to another title, losing just one league match all season with the likes of Swedish winger Anders Limpar and future England no.1 goalkeeper David Seaman added to his valuable assets.
Premier League management
In 1992, Arsenal were considered among the title favourites for the first Premier League season but started badly with back-to-back defeats to surprise packages Norwich City and Blackburn Rovers. A victory at Anfield did follow a week later but league form was inconsistent and the team finished tenth – Graham’s lowest finish in the league. However, that disappointment was soothed by a domestic cup double, beating Sheffield Wednesday in both matches.
Graham’s side became very defence-minded and was almost fully reliant on goals from Ian Wright. They averaged just 48 league goals in each of the Premier League’s first three seasons and were the lowest scorers in the division during the inaugural season. His reign at Arsenal ultimately ended very controversially. In late 1994, it emerged Graham had accepted a £425,000 payment from a Norwegian agent, Rune Hauge following the signings two years earlier of Scandinavian pair, Pal Lydersen and John Jensen. Graham was sacked by the club in February 1995 and the FA later banned him for a year for his part in the transfer dealings.
After serving his ban, he returned to football management with Leeds United, replacing Howard Wilkinson in September 1996. As ever, he worked on getting the defence right and despite scoring a meagre 28 goals, Leeds finished comfortably in mid-table in 11th spot. Jimmy Floyd Hasselbaink was signed a year later and the Yorkshire side became a more exciting side to watch. There were thrilling 4-3 victories over Blackburn Rovers and Derby County and a 5-0 trouncing of the Rams at Pride Park. Leeds finished a creditable fifth in the 1997/1998 table.
Tottenham courted his services following the departure of Christian Gross and there was an uncomfortable afternoon when Leeds visited White Hart Lane with Graham still employed by the club but almost about to take over at Spurs. The banners “Who are you supporting today George?” pretty much summed it up. A 3-3 draw meant the entertainment value on-the-field matched the boardroom discussions between the two clubs.
Graham eventually took over at Tottenham at the start of October 1998. For the fans, an ex-Arsenal manager was not a popular choice but he did guide Tottenham to their first silverware in seven years, defeating Leicester City 1-0 in the 1999 League Cup final. However, Tottenham couldn’t finish higher than 10th in the table and he was sacked in March 2001, shortly after the club’s ownership changed hands. An alleged breach of contract was given as the reason for his sudden departure and it was fair to say, things ended rather acrimoniously between ENIC, who had purchased the club and the manager.
Graham has been out of management ever since, instead focusing on being the chief pundit for Sky Sports’ pay-per-view Premiership Plus coverage from 2001 to 2007. He has been linked with vacancies at Leicester City, West Ham United and Sunderland but opted to stay away from the dugout.
George Graham achieved plenty in his career and his 10 managerial honours in very impressive. However, his best days ultimately took place before the formation of the FA Premier League.