Signed for an absolute pittance, given what he went on to achieve at Leeds, the man from Suriname was the first real Leeds United hero for children of my generation.
An absolute force in front of goal, Jimmy Floyd Hasselbaink repeatedly fired himself into the hearts of Leeds fans. The problems that came at the end of his time at Elland Road, however, managed to ruin any and all goodwill that he had built up whilst at the club.
Much like his departure, his arrival was tinged with some controversy, although on a much smaller scale.
Speaking at the time, he said: “They call me Jimmy in Portugal. I want to have Jimmy on the shirt.” Excited children spent their parents’ money having that name printed on their fresh kits. Before long, though, the FA intervened and said he wasn’t allowed to do that as his last name had to be featured. Unsurprisingly, there was uproar, not least because Cruyff Jr was allowed to have “Jordi” on the back of his jersey over the Pennines.
That unique controversy aside, Hasselbaink’s arrival for £2m from Boavista immediately rejuvenated Leeds’ attacking options, which had stagnated to a ridiculous extent during George Graham’s first season. He started as he meant to go on, scoring on his debut against Arsenal. This was different to the adaptation he expected.
“At the beginning of the season I’m going to have to learn about English football,” he suggested. “I’m going to make the best of it, and score as many goals as possible.”
That particular prediction was correct, as Hasselbaink fired home 16 goals in his first season at Elland Road. He was magical in front of the goal, with an inherent and predatory instinct for scoring.
As if to symbolise his mad desire to score goals, he said, “On the pitch, when I see green or smell green, I get a little bit crazy. The grass you know? I get this green mist.”
His next season was even better, as he scored 18 goals in the league, making him the joint winner of the Premiership’s Golden Boot award. David O’Leary’s young side finished fourth, in part thanks to Hasselbaink’s efforts. His final goal of the season, against Arsenal, lives on in Leeds folklore, as it gave the title to hated rivals Manchester United.
Before he kicked another ball for Leeds, however, controversy struck. His actions towards the end of his time at LS11 soured relations between him and the United fans, and wiped out any positivity supporters felt towards his past. He rejected a new contract from Leeds, seeking out higher wages, before handing in a transfer request to force through a move.
Leeds apparently stopped Hasselbaink from joining Chelsea, not wanting to aid a direct rival, and he was instead sold to Atletico Madrid for £12m. A season later, however, he got the switch he wanted, moving to Stamford Bridge. As Leeds combusted, Jimmy went on to fire Chelsea into the Champions League in his third season and then help Middlesbrough to a Uefa Cup final.