Leicester 3 – Leeds 1 – November 2000
If ever a club made a statement of intent, we all felt the signing of Rio Ferdinand at Leeds was just that. One of the best young defenders in the game, and we paid a then record fee of £18m to West Ham to sign him in November 2000. We’d just qualified for the second group stages of the Champions League, we were going well in the Premier League, and it felt like there was no stopping us. I remember the buzz when we signed him and around the ground when he was unveiled formally on the pitch on the same day that we beat Arsene Wenger’s Arsenal 1-0 at Elland Road.
It was a massive signing for us, and I’ve always said that Rio is one of the best players I ever played alongside – but it’s fair to say his Leeds career didn’t get off to the best of starts. In fact, that’s probably putting it politely.
He made his debut down at Leicester – the week after we’d beaten Arsenal – and unsurprisingly all the pre-match media build-up surrounded his arrival and the prospect of the world’s then most expensive defender lining up for Leeds United, a club who meant business. I’m not sure what was going on in everyone’s minds half-an-hour into that Leicester game, but we were 3-0 down and the world’s most expensive defender was, shall we say, having one. Now, that’s not to say that the rest of us were covering ourselves glory, but it was one of those days where all the outside attention was focused on one player and poor Rio couldn’t really escape it.
Robbie Savage, Ade Akinbyi, and big Gerry Taggert all scored for Leicester, a gutsy side with plenty of spirit and a liking for upsetting the odds, and we were seriously mugged off by a team the outside world expected us to beat. To put it mildly, it was 30 minutes from hell. And it got worse in the second half when Lucas Radebe got sent-off and although Mark Viduka did pull one back, the headlines were already written and they didn’t make for pleasant reading, particularly if you were Rio. We were never the most popular club with the media at the times anyway, and you could sense the smug satisfaction in some of the reports afterwards with poor old Rio taking the brunt of it.
I suppose it’s fair to say we had the last laugh over the course of the season, reaching the semi-finals of the Champions League, but for poor old Rio, Leicester were to prove his nemesis after he scored an own goal against them on the final day of the same season at Elland Road. At least that day we won, 3-1