10 Things We Learnt in Lockdown With the Greatest Arsenal Legend David O’Leary

10 Things We Learnt in Lockdown With David O’Leary (part 1) by Dan Smith

With the North London Derby this Sunday I was thinking the other day about how many leaders do we have in the Arsenal team at the moment?

We have good players, but who can you really trust to roll up their sleeves this weekend and fight for the badge? Who has enough pride In the club that they simply won’t tolerate Spurs running our face into the dirt?

So it’s ironic to me that as I’m talking about leaders, the latest guest on Arsenal ‘s Lockdown Podcast should be David O’Leary.

No one played In the red and white shirt more than the defender, a record 722 games In an unprecedented 20-year spell. When you listen to this man talk about the mentality built into you to succeed at Arsenal, you can’t help but make comparisons to today’s version.


Here Are 10 Things We Learnt in Lockdown With David O’Leary (part 1)


He Was In The First Team At 17

In his first season you could understand why David O’Leary assumed he wouldn’t play often, if at all. After all, he had just turned 17 when he was told he would be starting at Burnley. His assumption was that he was filling in for injuries, but he went on to play over 40 games that campaign.


He Could Have Joined Man United

The defender confirms he had equally had a successful trial at Man United. O’Leary said though there was just something about the way he was made to feel at Arsenal which made him choose North London at his new home.


The Apprentice

O’Leary credits the apprentice scheme as giving him the independent skills to cope with playing every week as a teenager. He says young players today could benefit from it as they are too ‘protected’ and don’t have to think for themselves. He feels a big issue is a young talent can be financially rewarded for having achieved very little in reality.


The Arsenal Way

You will often hear former players refer to ‘The Arsenal Way’. The club had a reputation for always doing things with a touch of class, something that even other clubs would acknowledge.

O’Leary’s example is having just made his debut at the age of 17, his manager walks into the dressing room with the player’s dad as a surprise. The club had paid for the defenders father to travel from Ireland to witness his son’s big moment.


20 Years Was His Target

O’Leary reveals a fascinating insight into how he would motivate himself. Away from the team’s targets, he would set himself individual goals.

After 10 years at the club he realised how unique it would be if he could last two decades at Highbury. He believed the way he trained and dieted would allow him to stay at the top level for that long. He was correct…


Wanted To Reach 700

David O’Leary was given a trophy to celebrate breaking the record for most Gunners appearances. However he wasn’t satisfied. The record stood at 622 games, but he informed his wife his personal target was reaching over 700 games to put him unprecedented territory


Last Game as A Gunner

His last game for the club was fittingly winning the FA Cup in 1993, knowing beforehand the Final would be final bow as a Gunner. Lifting a trophy was another goal he had set himself for his 20th year.

He says it was only when walking round the pitch, seeing the fans, did it sink in that it was the end of an era.


Wanted To Stay As A Coach

It’s made clear that George Graham was not the type to give a contract extension out of sentiment, nor would the player want that to be the case. What O’Leary does regret is that his manager wasn’t more open to the idea of a deal which would have allowed him to transition into a coaching role. (An offer he would make him when at Leeds)


Today’s Era

O’Leary says if his career had started in the last two decades, he doubts he would have lasted twenty years and over 700 games for one of the biggest clubs in the country. He cites that so much goes into preparing a modern-day footballer he wouldn’t have been cleared to play as much as he did.

In today’s era clubs pay to have the world’s best sport scientists and psychologists, etc, who won’t declare a player fit unless they are 100 per cent fit.


Changes For The Better?

Having played for us from 1973 to 1993, obviously O’Leary saw a lot of changes in the sport. Asked what rules he thought changed the game for the better he said giving 3 points for a win encouraged more attacking football and removing the back-pass rules prevented negative tactics.

Part 2 next week

Be Kind in The Comments

Dan Smith


  1. David O’ Leary we are not worthy. Such a clean cultured defender in an era when most literally went in boots and all. He was the only one of the three Irish wiz kids who remained loyal. Arsenal could have built a championship winning team around them but remained Arsenal, the other two went to more ambitious clubs. Deja Vu? Yes! Wasn’t the great one recently denied a place on the board because of that crook Raul Sanelin? Things seem to go round and round at Arsenal but I’m Leary remains one of the few immortals at Arsenal deserving of their statue.

  2. I remember being at that game where O’Leary made his debut, who is that tall gangly kid we all said, but you could see even at that early age that he had something about him and so it proved as he turned out and matured into a wonderful servant to the club. Just a shame we couldn’t have integrated him into the club he loved when he stopped playing.

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