Johnny Giles - Winger

Johnny Giles

Johnny Giles

Born: Wednesday 6 November 1940, Dublin, Republic of Ireland

Position: Winger/Central Midfielder

One of the Republic of Ireland's finest players, Johnny Giles began his career as a winger with Manchester United before being converted into a midfield player at Leeds United where he played a pivotal role in the club's greatest era. Becoming player-manager of the Irish national team while still a star player at Leeds, he later combined that job with managerial duties in both England and Ireland before developing a successful media career.

Born in Dublin on 6 November 1940, Michael John Giles began his football career with local junior side Stella Maris. From an early age, he was appearing against players several years his senior and at the age of 14, he was spotted by a scout from English giants Manchester United. After training with the club in the summer of 1955, he eventually signed on for a £10 fee and spent several years developing his skills in the club's youth team.

Manchester United

Just a matter of weeks after his debut for Manchester United, Giles was called up to the Irish national team where he scored on his debut against Sweden. Although United's rebuilding process was gradual, Giles' career appeared to be on an upward curve but after a poor performance in the FA Cup semi-final defeat to Tottenham Hotspur in 1962 he felt that manager Matt Busby lost confidence in him for good.

Giles did win a cup winner's medal a year later as despite having fought relegation, Manchester United beat Leicester City 3-1 to claim their first trophy since Munich, but believing his manager had no faith in him he asked for a transfer. Busby granted the request, a decision he later regretted, and Giles joined Second Division Leeds United. The transfer turned out to be the spark for the most successful period of Giles' career as Leeds won promotion in his first season.

The club narrowly missed out on a league and cup double a year later, losing the FA Cup final to Liverpool and the league title on goal average to Manchester United of all teams. Early in 1965-66, an injury to inside-right Bobby Collins led manager Don Revie to move Giles into the deeper, more central role and he went on to make the position his own. Still able to get forward and contribute goals when needed, Giles developed the ability to control matches from the centre of midfield.

In 1968-69, Giles was a crucial figure in Leeds' first league title, as they lost just twice all season and finished six clear points clear of Liverpool. Everything seemed set for years of domination as the club chased a historic treble in 1970 but sadly for Leeds, their reputation as nearly-men returned. A poor finish saw them beaten to the league title by Everton, while they lost an FA Cup final replay to Chelsea and crashed out of the European Cup to Celtic in the semi-finals.

The early 1970s saw the near misses continue as although Leeds did beat Arsenal to win the FA Cup in 1972, they had lost the league title to the same side by a single point a year earlier and in 1973, lost both the FA Cup and European Cup Winners' Cup finals. Giles' international career had also been characterised by disappointment for many years, as the Irish team was not strong enough to seriously contend for a place in a major championship.

Leeds United Squad

In the autumn of 1973, he got the chance to do something about changing the fortunes of the national side himself when he was appointed player-manager, a role which he held for seven years. In 1974, he won another league championship medal with Leeds as they led the table almost all season to take their second title, and when manager Don Revie left to take charge of England he recommended Giles to take over as player-manager of his club as well.

The Leeds board did not take up the suggestion, instead appointing Brian Clough in a move which proved disastrous. Clough was sacked after a matter of weeks and again Giles' name was put forward for the vacancy, but again he was overlooked. The 1974-75 season proved to be his last with the club, leaving after the controversial defeat to Bayern Munich in the European Cup final and taking a job as player-manager with Second Division West Bromwich Albion.

Despite his success with West Brom, Giles had grown tired of a perceived lack of power for managers in England and returned to Ireland in 1977 to take charge of Shamrock Rovers, with ambitions to make the club a force in European football. Although he won the FAI Cup in 1978, league success proved elusive and Giles courted controversy by signing a deal to play in North America for the Philadelphia Fury in the close season.

Criticised from other quarters for putting club before country and for continuing to select himself in the national team, Giles eventually resigned from his job with Ireland in April 1980 but was still unable to bring the League of Ireland title to Shamrock. Attempts to make the club a full-time outfit stalled and in 1981 he returned to North America in the close-season to coach the Vancouver Whitecaps, further irritating some Rovers fans.

NASL logo

Winning the NASL's Northwest Division in 1981, Giles continued to combine the jobs until 1983 when he left both clubs. He returned to West Brom early in 1984 and helped the club escape relegation but ultimately his second spell at the club proved to be unsuccessful and after a dreadful start to the 1985-86 season he resigned. Giles later returned to Ireland where he worked as a TV pundit during the 1986 World Cup, beginning a career in the media which has lasted for more than 25 years. We can safely say that he is a real football legend.