Premier League Clubs Managed: Sheffield Wednesday (1995-1997), Tottenham Hotspur (2003-2004)
In January, David Pleat turns 73 years old. He is fondly remembered by Luton Town fans for his time as manager of the Hatters and also had spells as Premier League manager to both Sheffield Wednesday and Tottenham Hotspur. Since stepping aside as Tottenham boss at the end of the 2003-2004 campaign, he has become a regular commentator on both TV and radio.
Making his mark at Luton
Like many of his contemporaries, David Pleat did experience a playing career but it wasn’t with many highlights. He made 185 appearances in the Football League between 1962 and 1971, often figuring as a winger. His most notable spells were with Luton Town and Exeter City. It was with the former where he would make his initial mark in management.
Appointed manager of the club in January 1978, he spent nine years at Kenilworth Road and promoted a side that were easy on the eye to watch for the neutral. His final year in charge saw the club finish ninth in the First Division and reached the FA Cup semi-finals in 1985. His most iconic scenes though were earlier than these highs.
In 1983, Luton had to win on the final day at Manchester City to survive in the First Division and send their opponents down. For long spells in the game, it looked like it would be Luton going down but a last-minute goal from Raddy Antic ensured they survived. At the full-time whistle, Pleat is seen running onto the Maine Road pitch, doing a dance shuffle on his way to congratulating his players. It is still considered one of the most powerful images of football in the 1980s.
He left Luton in 1986 to become Tottenham Hotspur manager, guiding them to a third-place finish in the First Division table behind the two Merseyside clubs and the FA Cup final, although they surprisingly lost this 3-2 to Coventry City. He got the absolute maximum out of Clive Allen, who enjoyed his best goalscoring season under Pleat, netting 49 times in all competitions.
In October 1987, he was dismissed by the club after allegations about his private life came out in the press. He moved to Leicester City and spent three years at Filbert Street before being sacked in 1991 for a lack of progress in the Midlands. He returned to Luton for a second spell but couldn’t prevent them from being relegated in the final Football League season before the formation of the Premier League.
An excellent FA Cup run in 1994 saw Luton claim the scalps of Premier League teams Newcastle United and West Ham United before being beaten in the Wembley semi-finals by Chelsea. However, his Premier League chance would arrive a year later and it would be in the form of a Yorkshire side who were keen for a bit of a revival.
Struggles in Sheffield
Sheffield Wednesday struggled in 1994-1995 and finished in 13th spot under the guidance of Trevor Francis. Francis left at the end of that season and Pleat arrived at Hillsborough, keen to show his qualities at the highest level of the English game. He brought Mark Pembridge with him from Luton and added Belgian Marc Degryse to the ranks. However, his first season in Sheffield was a struggle. The Owls finished a lowly 15th and still mathematically could have been relegated on the final day if a freak set of results had occurred. A 6-2 derby win over Leeds United was the only significant highlight of his debut season in Yorkshire.
More encouraging signs emerged in 1996-1997, with Wednesday enjoying a wonderful start, winning their first four matches and setting the very early pace. This included a brilliant 2-1 away victory over Newcastle United. Naturally, they fell off their early tempo but still finished seventh in the table, matching their best-ever Premier League finish. However, this was as good as it got for David. His team became very leaky in the opening weeks of the following campaign, losing 7-2 at Ewood Park to Blackburn Rovers and 6-1 at Manchester United.
In November 1997, Sheffield Wednesday chairman Dave Richards had enough. With the club bottom of the table, he sacked Pleat, who became the first managerial casualty of the 1997-1998 campaign.
A final dalliance at Tottenham
Pleat returned to Tottenham in 1998 as the club’s Director of Football. He would hold the role for six years, which included three spells as caretaker manager following the sackings of Christian Gross, George Graham and Glenn Hoddle respectively.
When Hoddle left in September 2003, Pleat took over as manager for the remainder of the season and won 16 of his 39 matches in all competitions; making Spurs an attractive, if totally open team to witness. Scorelines including a 5-2 home triumph over Wolves, a 4-4 draw with Leicester City and a 4-3 victory against Portsmouth.
In August 2006, he took up a football consultant role with Nottingham Forest which included scouting potential new signings for the club. He left the post in September 2011.
David has since become a familiar voice in the media, writing newspaper columns for The Guardian newspaper, commentating on BBC Radio 5 Live and featuring regularly as a co-commentator for ITV until 2009. He now works for Al Jazeera Sport.