between the two Uniteds of Leeds and Manchester have never been
exactly lukewarm affairs. The antipathy between the rival sets
of supporters is intense and the atmosphere awaiting the visitors
is always very hostile. The two battles in the FA Cup semi final
of 1965, when Don Revie's brash young side emerged to rough up
Matt Busby's classy big timers, were possibly the nastiest clashes
of all, but the passionate enmity between the fans is a constant.
However, there was a little more spice than usual when the Old
Trafford club travelled to Elland Road for the Premiership fixture
on September 14, 2002, for the game represented the first return
to his old club of England centre back and former Leeds skipper
Rio Ferdinand, who had crossed the Pennines in a record £30m deal
during the close season.
Ferdinand had been voted player of the year by Whites supporters.
He had enjoyed a good World Cup tournament with England in Japan
and South Korea, and speculation about a potential move had started
during the finals, with some predicting he would be on his way
back to top
However, it was Manchester United who were quickly installed
as favourites for his signature, and the Reds in the England squad
had plenty of time to persuade Ferdinand of the benefits of linking
up with them.
The Londoner publicly denied the rumours, "I'm happy at Leeds
and that is where I want to stay," but talk is always cheap. Club
chairman Peter Ridsdale also sought to quell the rumours: "Let's
make it perfectly clear I don't want to sell Rio Ferdinand. He
has four years left on his contract and we bought him to be our
captain and to build our team around him. We want to build a side
capable of winning trophies, but we have already spent a lot of
money to try to achieve this. If we want to continue to invest
in the team we have to make judgments on the valuation of players
we bring in and the offers we receive. As for Rio we have no offer
so it is a hypothetical question."
Manager David O'Leary was equally fixed in not wanting to lose
his captain, but hinted at the reality of the situation: "I will
talk to him about his future now he has returned from the World
Cup. I'll start by finding out what he wants to do. Because, let's
be honest, he will know all about Manchester United.
"The bottom line is that if Rio tells me he thinks that Manchester
United are a bigger club and that he wants to go on to another
level, then what can you do? Keep an unhappy player - and an unhappy
£30 million-rated player at that?
"Manchester United could have had Rio Ferdinand for £18 million
but they didn't rate him. Now they will have to pay more than
£30 million to get him second time around, if I have anything
to do with it. Demanding that price won't
be much of a consolation if he is to leave Leeds. I don't want
him to go, I am against the transfer. Ultimately, the decision
rests with the Leeds plc."
It was partly down to O'Leary's outspoken vehemence about the
possible move that he was fired within the week, leaving the way
clear for former England boss Terry Venables to be installed as
manager a couple of weeks later, with speculation still rife about
the Ferdinand deal.
In the end, of course, Peter Ridsdale's resolve visibly diluted
as it became clear that Ferdinand wanted to leave and before the
end of July, a £30m fee had been agreed and the move was completed.
Leeds United fans felt betrayed at the sight of another of their
key players defecting to their rivals. The name of Ferdinand was
added to a roll that included Jordan, McQueen and Cantona, although
the reverse journeys of Giles and Strachan were as galling for
Manchester fans. The Elland Road crowd were determined to make
Rio's return visit an unpleasant one and Ridsdale did nothing
to quell their anger by going public about his own feelings: "When
I first received an approach for Rio from the Manchester United
chairman, Peter Kenyon, our resolve was not to sell him. All the
speculation started after that but I can assure you that speculation
was not prompted by Leeds United. I'll leave it up to you to decide
who started it.
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"I saw Rio when he came back from the World Cup. It was on the
Monday before he went off on holiday and he told me he wanted
to leave the club. That, by the way, was on the very same day
he put his name to an article in a national newspaper saying he
wanted to stay. When he got back from the holiday he then put
in a written transfer request saying not just that he wanted to
leave Leeds United but that he specifically wanted to join Manchester
United. At that point we had not received an offer from them that
we considered even close to being viable so it was all a bit puzzling."
He also quickly remodelled his version of history by claiming
that Leeds had only bought Ferdinand as an insurance policy: "We
actually bought Rio in the first place because Jonathan Woodgate's
position was uncertain due to his involvement in what turned out
to be two trials. Now Woodgate is back, Lucas Radebe is looking
sharp again and we've got Dominic Matteo and Michael Duberry and
Mills who played in that position in some of the European games.
People say we have sold our best player but you have to take a
view on whether that is actually the case or not." It was a shallow
and ill-conceived attempt at self-justification and few gave much
credibility to the claim, but it certainly increased the bad blood
surrounding the forthcoming game.
For once, Leeds' form going into the game was better than their
illustrious opponents. Despite losing two of their first five
matches, they were on the crest of a wave after a stunning 2-0
victory at Newcastle and were lying third. By contrast, Manchester
United had just lost 1-0 at home to Bolton, and were struggling
to get going.
Terry Venables retained the eleven with which had started at
Newcastle, with Alan Smith playing on the right side of midfield,
Lee Bowyer and Olivier Dacourt in the centre, and Nick Barmby
on the left. The Aussie duo of Mark Viduka and Harry Kewell played
up front in an orthodox 4-4-2 formation. In goal, young Paul Robinson
continued to be preferred to Nigel Martyn, while the first choice
defence of Mills, Woodgate, Matteo and Harte were all present
Sir Alex Ferguson's midfield was missing Juan Sebastian Veron,
Roy Keane and Paul Scholes, and chose to pair Nicky Butt and Phil
Neville in the middle, with England captain David Beckham and
Ryan Giggs on the flanks, while veteran French centre back Laurent
Blanc partnered Ferdinand at the heart of defence.
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There were the predictable range of banners and chants of "One
greedy bastard", and Ferdinand was booed every time he touched
the ball. However, the cup of hatred that had been anticipated
never quite brimmed over and the England defender showed little
emotion in the face of the onslaught. However, it was clear for
all to see that the form of Jonathan Woodgate was better, mainly
because most of the first half action was at the Leeds end. Terry
Venables knew as much and
said so afterwards, "I thought Woodgate was magnificent. In the
first half he held us together. He was excellent at Newcastle,
where he didn't give a single foul away all night, and he was
great again today."
It may have been one of the weakest Manchester midfields for
years, but their quartet was still strong enough to outmuscle
the Leeds combination, leaving them chasing shadows, with Venables
admitting, "They were much better than us in the first half. We
took a battering."
Indeed they did, giving Ryan Giggs the time and space to boss
much of the game. However, the Whites were resolute under pressure
and withstood the wave of assaults that engulfed them. There was
even an example of the intelligence that Venables was trying to
instil in his new charges, when they cleverly negated the threat
of one of David Beckham's normally deadly free kicks. In an obviously
prearranged tactic, as the England captain ran up to hit the dead
ball, two defenders back-pedalled towards goal and into covering
positions. Thus Ian Harte was in place to chest the goalbound
effort down and clear it.
It was an example of El Tel's tactical nous and Leeds had to
keep thinking on their feet as Manchester United continued to
press. A corner from Beckham provided a chance for Silvestre,
but he failed to connect effectively, and Paul Robinson saved
well from a firm drive by Nicky Butt.
The Manchester camp felt they were hard done by, but Joe Lovejoy
of The Times was more on the mark: "Sir Alex Ferguson took a characteristically
one-eyed view of events. His team deserved to have won and should
have had two penalties, he said. Unsurprisingly, he was unsighted
when David Beckham elbowed Lee Bowyer in the face after 22 minutes
- an offence which caught the referee in myopic mode, too. Had
Jeff Winter seen it clearly, the England
captain had to be red-carded. The penalty claims? Woodgate was
involved in both the incidents Ferguson had in mind. In one, Butt
clearly ran into him, in the other the contact with Ole Gunnar
Solskjaer was insubstantial. Certainly there was nothing in the
game to support the United manager's contention that 'referees
seem afraid to make decisions'. The ones they were giving against
his paragons were 'horrendous', he added."
One wonders what the outcome would have been if it had been Bowyer
caught elbowing Beckham rather than the other way round, because
there was clear intent in the raised arm. The reputation of Golden
Balls was probably what kept his name out of the referee's notebook.
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Nick Townsend of The Independent: "Mysteriously, Beckham did
not receive a card of either hue, although Winter saw enough to
award a free-kick. Predictably, neither manager witnessed the
moment clearly. Ferguson declared 'I'm sure David wouldn't do
that', while Venables' contribution was: 'I remember the incident,
but I can't make a judgement on it'."
Leeds were fortunate in the first half, reprieved by the lack
of sharpness in Ruud van Nistelrooy's finishing, and their only
chance of any note came when Ferdinand headed wide of his own
goal. They looked relieved to come in at the interval still on
level terms and Terry Venables used the break to change things
The 4-4-2 formation depended on Kewell and Viduka buying time
when the ball came forward to bring other players into the game,
but Venables acknowledged that it was not functioning properly:
"Harry and Mark Viduka were so good against Newcastle, but in
the first half they looked tired, and were unable to hold the
ball up. So, I laid the team out differently in the second half
to take the pressure off them."
He brought on Lucas Radebe for the injured Dominic Matteo, but
the key change was Eirik Bakke replacing the ineffectual Nick
Barmby. He teamed the Norwegian up with Olivier Dacourt in the
middle and pulled Kewell back into the left side of midfield.
He then instructed Alan Smith and Lee Bowyer to push further forward
in support of Viduka, allowing things to interchange between 4-3-3
and 4-5-1 as circumstances demanded.
The changes had the desired impact, and Leeds started the second
half much better equipped to compete on equal terms, with Bowyer
coming close in the opening seconds. Bakke's physical presence
made a significant difference,
particularly after 63 minutes when he clashed with Butt, leading
to the England midfielder having to be withdrawn due to a hip
injury. Luke Chadwick replaced him, dropping into a right wing
position and allowing Beckham to move into a central role.
The incident was crucial and just three minutes later Leeds took
the lead which their improved play had hinted at. Chadwick moved
out to challenge Ian Harte, 35 yards from goal on the left and
prevented him going wide onto his favoured foot. Job done, Alex
Ferguson might have thought, but the Irish left back moved in
on his right and floated over a wonderful cross from his supposedly
weaker side. Harry Kewell rose unmarked in the middle of the area,
with neither Ferdinand nor Silvestre close enough to challenge,
and flicked a clever header well clear of Fabien Barthez and into
the far corner to stun the Mancunians.
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It was the cue for exultant celebrations at the corner flag and
excited cries of "Rio, Rio, what's the score?" from the partisan
Leeds were determined to protect their hard won advantage and
brought Stephen McPhail on for the flagging Viduka, pushing the
tigerish Smith up front to fight a lone battle, which he did with
aggression and no little skill. Alex Ferguson was more positive
with his change, withdrawing the out of touch van Nistelrooy and
throwing on Diego Forlan, although the Uruguayan could add no
more bite to the attack than the Dutchman.
Smith, however, played like a man possessed and gave his opponents
endless problems. He was in on the ribs of Ferdinand at every
opportunity, giving a masterly demonstration of the art of the
target man, predictably earning a booking for a second foul on
Silvestre. His performance was marvellous to watch for the Leeds
fans, and they got behind him, even forgetting for a while to
bait Ferdinand in their excitement.
In the closing minutes, Ole Gunnar Solskjaer spitefully went
in late on Kewell after the Australian had cleared his lines,
provoking an ill tempered bout of pushing and shoving, which ended
with Solskjaer and Ian Harte receiving yellow cards.
By now, though, Leeds were assured in their resistance of all
that the Reds had to offer, and nearly doubled their lead in the
dying seconds when Ferdinand's clearance went straight to Kewell.
The Aussie took the opportunity to create a decent angle before
firing marginally wide of the goal.
It would have possibly been unfair on Manchester United, but
the home fans cheered nearly as loudly as they had when the goal
went in. However, the noise when the final whistle went after
four minutes of added time (Venables got up off the bench at one
stage and shook hands with his staff, only to discover the whistle
was for a free kick) was greater than ever as Leeds celebrated
their first win over their Old Enemy since George Graham's days.
Venables was all smiles at the end, saying: "I thought at half-time
that we'd be looking for our first win against them in 11 in the
next match because they played well and had us on the rack. But
we turned it around in the second half. The boys were absolutely
outstanding. I thought in the end we had them on the run and we
deserved it. They were much
better than us in the first half and we were the better side in
the second half. After we took the lead we played the ball better
and we played it earlier. In the first half we wanted too many
touches of the ball and that allowed them to get at us."
The early kick off, arranged to accommodate live television coverage
by Sky, meant that for a few hours at least Leeds were on top
of the table. What was even more satisfying was seeing their fiercest
rivals and their former captain wallowing in the no man's land
of ninth spot.
It was a rare moment of elation in a season that was ultimately
to become one of the most depressing in the recent history of
Elland Road. For a time at least, however, Terry Venables could
bask in the reflected glory of his team seeing off Manchester
United, knowing that it would buy him precious time with the demanding
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