It’s hard to believe that, just 14 years ago, Championship strugglers Leeds United were lining up against the mighty Barcelona in the Champions League.
I’m sure Steve Evans, and his taskmaster Cellino, would love to have some of the class of 2001 available for the club’s trip to Bolton on Saturday.
In the second of our series on fallen giants we’ll delve into the archives to profile a few of Leeds’ famous names. What happened to the boys of glory’s past?
Name: Rio Ferdinand
The Glory Years: After starring at the 2002 World Cup, Leeds United’s Rio Ferdinand was touted as one of the finest young defenders in Europe. The former West Ham graduate had the elegance of a ball-playing midfielder and the sturdiness of a classic ball-winning centre-half. Since moving from West Ham for a fee of £18 million in 2000, Ferdinand had cemented his position as one of Leeds’ finest players – he was club captain and a PFA Team of the Year regular. Unfortunately for the Yorkshire club, rumours of financial decline meant that the vultures were circling. On July 22, 2002, Manchester United deemed Ferdinand’s talents worthy of a British record-breaking transfer fee of around £30 million – with add-ons. Not only was this a British record, but it meant that Ferdinand was the most expensive defender in the history of the game.
Now: Ferdinand had a wonderfully successful career at the top of the game with Manchester United. He made the PFA “Team of the Season” on six separate occasions and featured for England an impressive 81 times. After 12 years with the club, Ferdinand moved on to pastures new at Queens Park Rangers. Unfortunately for Ferdinand, his best years were behind him and he struggled to make an impact. Sadly, he was forced to retire from the professional game after the death of his wife in the summer of 2015. He currently works for BT Sport as a leading pundit. He is regarded by many as one of the finest ball-playing centre-backs England have ever produced.
Name: Jonathan Woodgate
The Glory Years: Woodgate’s off-the-field problems overshadowed his obvious talent while at Leeds in the early 2000s. The academy graduate broke into the first team as a teenager in 1997, and was instantly seen as the ‘jewel in the crown’ of the club. However, in 2000, Woodgate – along with his teammate Bowyer – was arrested for allegedly assaulting a man during a drunken night out. The case restricted Woodgate’s appearances over the next few years and cast a shadow over his promising career. When he finally returned to the first team fold, Leeds’ financial problems had taken control. In January 2003, Newcastle signed Woodgate for a fee of around £9 million. Leeds manager Terry Venables was so dismayed by the move that he quit the club soon after. Within a year, Woodgate had signed for the mighty Real Madrid.
Now: Woodgate never quite managed to live up to his reputation at Real Madrid. I think he himself would agree that it was a bit of a disaster. After an injury-hit first season, Woodgate finally made his debut in a tie against Atletico Bilbao. Unfortunately for the former Leeds man, he scored an own goal in the first half and was sent off in the second. In 2007, Woodgate was named by Spanish paper Marca as the club’s worst signing of the 21st century. After just nine appearances for Madrid, Woodgate was offered an escape route by Premier League side, Middlesbrough. He managed to rebuild his reputation at the club and soon signed for Tottenham Hotspur. While at White Hart Lane, Woodgate re-established himself as one of the top defenders in England. He helped the club lift the League Cup – scoring the winning goal against Chelsea – and played regularly for England. Woodgate is now 35 and playing with Middlesbrough in the Championship.
Name: Harry Kewell
The Glory Years: In the early 2000s, Kewell was one of the hottest players in Europe. The 1999-2000 season, in particular, saw Kewell win the PFA Young Player of the Year award and earn a place in the PFA Team of the Year. After helping Leeds to the Champions League semi-final in the following season, Kewell seemed destined for a move to a European elite side. Italian giants Inter Milan saw a huge bid of £25 million rejected for the young Australian international and Kewell continued his rise to stardom. However, just a year later, the club’s financial struggles took hold and Kewell was targeted for a cut-price deal. Despite rejecting £25 million in 2000, Leeds eventually sold Kewell to Liverpool for £5 million in 2003.
Now: Kewell is now retired and in a coaching role at Premier League side, Watford. In 2012, he was named Australia’s greatest ever player in a poll by fans. Perhaps though, this is largely down to his early career at Leeds. Kewell struggled to replicate the electrifying form of his Leeds days while at Liverpool. Despite helping the club to a Champions League title, Kewell found form hard to come by and was heavily restricted by injury. After a spell in Turkey and Qatar, Kewell finished his career back in his native Australia in 2014.
Name: Robbie Keane
The Glory Years: In the summer of 2002, Leeds United were in complete financial meltdown and needed quick sales. On August 31, Tottenham decided to test Leeds’ resolve with a £7 million bid for their burgeoning star, Keane. The Irishman’s career had stalled slightly while at the North Yorkshire club. After breaking through Wolves’ youth system in 1997, Keane quickly established himself as one of the finest young talents in Europe. Italian giants, Inter Milan, soon swooped on the Republic of Ireland international, signing him for £13 million in 2000. However, the man who bought Keane, Marcello Lippi, was sacked just months into the season and the forward was deemed surplus to requirements. Just months after his Italian dream had started, Keane was back in the Premier League with Leeds. Meanwhile, Tottenham Hotspur were in despair. They had an ageing side, a disgruntled fan base and a manager with a point to prove. Signing the energetic and instinctive Keane would prove to be a masterstroke – injecting a whole new lease of life into the otherwise ordinary Spurs side.
Now: Keane is perhaps one of the most underrated players in the Premier League era. Not only is he a Tottenham Hotspur legend, but – because of his phenomenal goalscoring record for Ireland – he has become the fifth highest scoring European in history. He is currently plying his trade for LA Galaxy in the MLS. He has been named in the MLS “Team of the Year” three times and was named as the 2014 “MVP”. In terms of his Spurs career, Keane averaged over 15 goals a season for the North London side. Between 2002 and 2008, Keane propelled Spurs back into contention for European places – including an unprecedented – and ever so heartbreaking – fifth-placed finish in the 2005-2006 season. In 2008, Tottenham Hotspur accepted a £20 million bid from Liverpool for their star striker. To the despair of every Tottenham fan, Keane’s lifelong dream of playing for Liverpool meant the decision was an easy one. However, his relationship with the Liverpool support was difficult. His CV promised goals, goals, goals. However, by December, Keane only had five to his name. A deeply troubled Tottenham Hotspur – now managed by Harry Redknapp – made the bold move to bring back their prodigal son. Without Keane’s help, who knows whether Spurs would have been able to fight the drop.
Name: Michael Bridges
The Glory Years: Bridges emerged as one of the Premier League’s most promising strikers during the 1996-1997 season. Two years later, Leeds decided to stump up the £5 million needed to prize the young England striker away from Sunderland. He was an instant hit with the Leeds faithful, forming a deadly partnership with the young Alan Smith. However, the fairytale start didn’t last long. While his club took the Champions League by storm – reaching the semi-finals – Bridges watched on from the sidelines, having picked up a season-ending injury during a group stage game against Besiktas. His Leeds career was then ravaged by yet more injuries; so much so that he would go on to feature just 10 more times for the club.
Now: Bridges is currently playing for Australian side, Lambton Jaffas FC – who play week-in-week-out in front of 2,000 fans! His injury against Besiktas spoiled what could have been a fantastic career at the top of the game. After recovering in 2004, Bridges attempted to re-establish his name at Newcastle United. Unfortunately, he was mainly selected to play on the wing and struggled to encapsulate the goalscoring form that had helped him make his name. After his spell at Newcastle, Bridges became known as a footballing journeyman – featuring sporadically for 11 clubs.
Name: Alan Smith
The Glory Years: Alan Smith was one of David O’Leary’s prized possessions. In 1998, he shot onto the Premier League scene as a virtually unknown 18-year old, scoring seven goals in his opening 22 games. His versatility meant that he soon became one of the most sought after English players in the league. Despite interest from Manchester United and Arsenal among others, O’Leary held firm and entrusted Smith with more leadership roles. Unlike a lot of Leeds’ top stars, Smith stayed on at the club during the difficult financial circumstances. However, after Leeds were relegated at the end of the 2003-2004 season, Manchester United swooped in and signed the young England international for a fee of close to £7 million.
Now: Smith is currently playing for Notts County in League One. In a career spanning 15 years, he has gone from marauding forward to holding midfielder. While at Manchester United, Smith suffered, what would become, a career-changing broken leg. Upon his return, he struggled to hold down a first team place and quickly move on to pastures new at Newcastle United. While with the Toon, Smith rarely – if ever – played in his preferred position. Like the majority of the players on this list, his potential was ruined by injury.
Name: Mark Viduka
The Glory Years: The former Celtic forward arrived on English soils in 2000 and, in a period spanning four years, scored over 80 goals. His first season in particular saw him net an impressive 17 Premier League goals. After Leeds suffered a financial meltdown in 2004, Viduka became one of the casualties, signing for Middlesbrough in time for the 2004-2005 season. During the following campaign, Viduka spearheaded Middlesbrough’s assault on Europe, helping the club reach an unprecedented UEFA Cup final.
Now: Since retiring in 2009, Viduka has stayed well out of the limelight. He was last pictured coaching the Melbourne Knights youth team back in his native Australia. According to former team-mate Stewart Downing, Viduka stands as the best player he’s ever shared the pitch with. After leaving Middlesbrough in 2007, Viduka had a spell with Newcastle United. His time at the club was largely marred by injury. He was released after Newcastle’s relegation in the 2008-09 season.