The success of many transfers depends on timing and Jason Wilcox remembers Leeds United as the right move at the wrong time.
He was ready and happy to end his long stint of service at Blackburn Rovers when Leeds bid £4m for him in 1999 but the winger and Premier League title-winner joined United with a younger rival stepping through the academy at Thorp Arch.
Leeds saw Harry Kewell as a gem in their youth-team squad – a gem among many – and the Australian’s value was higher than Wilcox’s. In five years Wilcox played 105 times, on occasions at left-back as Kewell tore up the flank in front of him.
Wilcox had been accustomed to constant involvement at Blackburn, though his exit from Ewood Park was encouraged by the emergence of a teenage Damien Duff, but his appearances with Leeds were sporadic.
“I loved my time at Leeds and I only wished that I’d been able to play more games,” he told the YEP last year. “There were times when I felt I should have been playing more often.
“When I moved on (from Blackburn) I was sure I needed a fresh start and Leeds were the perfect option for me. The problem for me was that they had a young side with players who were coming through the academy and they stuck by them very heavily.
“I had Harry Kewell in my position and Leeds made sure they protected his value. He was one of their biggest talents, really popular with the fans.”
When opportunities came and injuries subsided, Wilcox was able to demonstrate his vision and creative ability out wide. Terry Venables thought highly of him and played him regularly during the 2002-03 season, a season which Venables failed to survive.
Wilcox described the ex-England coach as a “tremendous manager”; by the point of his demise, Venables’ reputation in Leeds was far less savoury. The Venables era proved to be the most obvious hint of United’s impending decline and the carnage which led Wilcox and many others to bail out of Elland Road in 2004.
Shortly before Wilcox’s departure, United’s players agreed a wage deferral to help the club limp through to the end of the season. The deferral was negotiated with great difficulty and the squad were cast as villains of the piece, said to be obstructing attempts to rein in a growing financial crisis.
“I felt at the time the board put the onus and blame onto the players saying we weren’t going to defer our wages,” Wilcox said. “It wasn’t really the case; if people sat there and knew what was said in those meetings, I think they’d have a different view.”
He was part of a new breed of players developed at Leeds around the turn of the century – those caught up in a whirlwind of politics, in-fighting and dissent.
For him, the move to Elland Road was right. Only the timing let him down.