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Champions League

Sir Alex Ferguson’s ruthless takedown of “hated” rivals as Man Utd broke record again

TRANSFER HISTORY: Manchester United exploited the financial troubles at rivals Leeds United to sign Rio Ferdinand for British record £30m on July 22, 2002

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For Sir Alex Ferguson, it would have been seen as a direct threat.

Two years after he’d led his side to the Treble glory at the Nou Camp that resulted in that knighthood, here were Leeds United in a Champions League semi-final.

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And Ferguson didn’t like Leeds United.

Or rather he knew that Leeds United didn’t like him.

Ten years earlier, in 1991, there had been a trip to Elland Road that Ferguson would one day recall as being full of “pandemonium” from the home fans.

He would write in his autobiography that: “Some of the fans would have their kids on their shoulders, radiating the most incredible hatred.

“They did give us a bit of a battering in the second half, but Lee Sharpe had broken away, at 0-0, with two minutes to go, to score. It looked 10 yards offside.

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Ferguson enjoyed his battles against Leeds United



“I was on the pitch, (coach) Eric Harrison was in the dugout.

“A lot of people think Eric looks like me. One Leeds supporter certainly did, because he whacked Eric, absolutely panned him. The guy thought he was hitting me.”

That didn’t put Ferguson off returning to Leeds to sign Eric Cantona a year later, but almost a decade on David O’Leary’s side were building a team capable of threatening their rivals at both home and abroad.

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At least that’s what it looked like on the surface.

Behind the scenes, of course, Leeds were experiencing a deep financial crisis.

Chairman Peter Ridsdale had borrowed a reported £60m against future success, but a failure to qualify for the Champions League in both 2001 and 2002 meant that the club were in deep trouble.

And Ferguson wanted to exploit that.

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So he did.

“I identified him many years ago,” said a beaming Ferguson when he stood alongside Rio Ferdinand, whom he had signed from Leeds for a British record £30m on July 22, 2002.

“When you identify a particular great player you think how you could get him here.

“That wasn’t going to be easy but the board wanted him as much as I did and who wouldn’t want him at Old Trafford?

“A transfer like this has to be difficult. Leeds are a big club and our fiercest rivals, and he had four years left on his contract.

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“We were hopeful because of Leeds’ financial position. I think Peter Ridsdale has admitted that.

Ferdinand moved from Leeds to United back in 2002



“Most importantly, Rio wanted to come here and this contributed to the deal.”

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Ferdinand had indeed wanted the move, probably from before Leeds rejected United’s opening bid of £20m as they demanded more.

The centre-back had already become British football’s most expensive player when he swapped West Ham for Leeds in November 2000, yet here he was increasing that record 20 months later.

Ferguson, too, was in the mood to spend big.

He had broken that British record Leeds paid for Ferdinand just over a year prior when he’d signed Ruud van Nistelrooy for £19m, before following that up with the £28.1m signing of Juan Sebastian Veron that same summer.

All eyes were on Ferdinand at his unveiling
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Daily Mirror)

Ferdinand’s signing was the third time United had broken the British record in 13 months, and Ferguson was in the mood to crow about it.

“I am really pleased Rio has agreed to come to Old Trafford, he is a world-class defender with the experience of having played at the very highest level of the game, for club and country,” said the Scot, with Ferdinand having just starred at the 2002 World Cup.

“He is also a fine young man who will fit into the squad extremely well and I am sure he will prove to be a big hit with the fans.”

That he was.

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Indeed, Ferdinand still engages with the fans to this day in his role as a well-known pundit, but back then he just couldn’t wait to get started.

“I’m delighted to be joining Manchester United,” he said, sporting a white suit at his unveiling.

“I’m hoping to improve as a player and this is definitely a step in the right direction.

“I never thought in a million years I would be playing alongside players like Juan Sebastian Veron and Roy Keane.

“It was not an easy decision, but opportunities like this do not come round very often so I had to grab it with both hands.”

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Twelve years, six Premier League titles and a Champions League later, you can certainly say he did that.

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