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Wednesday 21 March 2018

Dave Sexton

Highly respected soccer coach who was famed for his tactical acumen

DAVE Sexton, who has died aged 82, had a relatively unremarkable career as a footballer before blossoming into one of the most respected coaches in the English game.

He established a reputation for tactical acumen despite winning only two trophies in his long managerial career. Although he steered Chelsea to victory in the FA Cup and the European Cup Winners' Cup, he never saw one of his sides crowned champions. He did, however – perhaps his most impressive feat – coach Queens Park Rangers to within a point of winning the league.

David James Sexton was born on April 6, 1930, and was educated in the East End of London. Playing at inside forward, his first club was Chelmsford City, from where he went to Luton Town. In 1952 he was signed by West Ham. Sexton moved on to Leyton Orient and then to Brighton and Hove Albion, with whom he won the Third Division (South) title in 1958. A spell with Crystal Palace proved to be his last as a player, after he suffered a knee injury in 1962.

His first chance in management came when Tommy Docherty appointed him assistant coach at Chelsea. In 1965 he became manager of Leyton Orient, and he gained further experience as coach at Fulham, under Vic Buckingham, helping them to escape relegation from the First Division in 1966. This was followed by the post of assistant manager and chief coach at Arsenal.

When Docherty left Stamford Bridge in 1967, Sexton replaced him. In 1969-70 Chelsea finished third in the First Division; in 1970, after a 2-2 draw at Wembley, they beat Leeds 2-1 in a replay at Old Trafford to lift the FA Cup for the first time; and the following year they won the European Cup-Winners' Cup, beating Real Madrid.

Chelsea defender Ron 'Chopper' Harris described Sexton as the best coach he ever worked with. But Sexton was unable to replicate the successes of 1970-71. Chelsea lost to Stoke in the 1972 League Cup final, and after the club had paid out a large sum to build a new stand there was little money available for transfers. In 1974 he went to QPR.

At Loftus Road, Sexton made good use of stars such as Stan Bowles, Gerry Francis, Frank McLintock, John Hollins and David Webb, and only just missed out on winning the league title in 1975-76, losing by a point to Liverpool.

It was that achievement that led to his appointment at Manchester United, where he took over in the summer of 1977, again replacing Docherty, who had been sacked.

Sexton's introspective, methodical style was ill-suited to Old Trafford. He brought in Ray Wilkins, Joe Jordan and Gordon McQueen, but trophies were elusive.

Meanwhile, his £1.25m signing Garry Birtles – then a club record – failed to prosper, and in 1981 Sexton was sacked. He took over at Coventry City, but after the club only just managed to avoid relegation in 1983 he was again dismissed.

After leaving club football, he enjoyed a long association with the English national side, particularly with the under-21s. For the senior side, he was an assistant to managers Ron Greenwood, Bobby Robson, Terry Venables, Glenn Hoddle, Kevin Keegan and Sven-Goran Eriksson.

With his wife, Thea, he had a daughter and three sons, one of whom predeceased him.

Sunday Independent

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