Leeds United: Six of the best United No.9s

John Charles.

John Charles.

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CHRIS WOOD has professed a fervent desire to earn his place in Leeds United ‘number nine’ folklore during his time at Elland Road – after paying back the first instalment of his big-money fee by netting in Wednesday night’s 2-2 draw at Ashton Gate.

The Kiwi has a long way to go before he is mentioned in the same breadth as a number of revered number nines who have worn the famous white jersey with considerable distinction, but his desire to secure his own place in history in laudable. And you have to start somewhere.

Time will certainly tell in that aspect if Wood is to become a celebrated entrant into United’s history books with the list of number nines who have shown their predatory prowess in a Leeds shirt being a venerable one.

Here’s a look at six of the best on the revered list of those who wore the number nine jersey for Leeds with considerable aplomb.

1) JOHN CHARLES: A man who simply needs no introduction. “Il Gigante Buono”, the Gentle Giant himself in the one and only ‘King’ John.

United struck pure Welsh gold when the Swansea-born star – imperious in the heart of the frontline or middle of the back four – arrived in December 1947 with his value simply inestimable in the eyes of United followers, who grew to worship the ground he walked on.

To many, Charles WAS Leeds United – mainly a modest division two club during his time at LS11, firing a club record 157 goals in 327 matches in a golden decade ahead of his world-record £65,000 transfer to Italian giants Juventus in May 1957 when he became the first UK player to make the grade in Italy.

But his goalscoring was only part of the perfect Charles footballing package that simply had everything – aerial prowess simply unsurpassed before or since he reigned, pace, power, technique a colossus of a physique and an ability to deliver world-class performances at front or back. And humility as well to match his outrageous talent which led most footballing judges to consider him the greatest all-round footballer ever to come from Britain.

His feats were monumental, including scoring a club record 42 goals in a season for Leeds in 1953-54 at a time when he was playing centre-half for his country, Wales with his highs continuing at the ‘Old Lady’ of Italian football in Juve where he won three Serie A championships and two cups – later being voted as the club’s best-ever foreign player in 1997.

John Charles, quite simply one of the best players the game has ever seen.

2) MICK JONES: The Yorkshireman was the other half of arguably the best-ever frontline pairing to represent Leeds United alongside Allan Clarke and while his targetman qualities and ability to hold the ball up were particularly lauded, he also scored scores of exciting goals in his seven-year stint as a regular at Elland Road.

Selfless, strong and brave as a lion – remember him being helped up to collect his FA Cup winners’ medal in 1972 after dislocating his shoulder – Jones was the proverbial players’ player with many of the view that his absence from the Leeds line-up for their title decider at Wolves just two days after the cup final cost them the league and cup double following a heart-breaking 2-1 loss at Molineux.

3) JERMAINE BECKFORD: Plucked from non-league Wealdstone, Beckford will forever be remembered for two deadly important contributions, including a certain strike in a certain FA Cup third-round victory at Old Trafford in January 2010, probably his finest hour in a United shirt.

With bags of pace and a fair array of different types of goals in his locker, perhaps the Londoner’s most important contribution was his 63rd-minute winner which ensured ten-man United escaped the graveyard of League One and returned to the Championship in the most dramatic of circumstances in front of over 38,000 fans against Bristol Rovers in May 2010.

It provided the perfect leaving gift to United fans before he departed to Everton, and despite some recriminations during the last 12 months of his time at Elland Road, he left with his reputation intact with hauls of 20, 34 and 31 goals in each of United’s seasons in League One – in all competitions – making him very much United’s ‘main man’ up top.

4) LEE CHAPMAN: Chapman was an old-school bustling forward chiefly remembered for a priceless goal which ended another miserable United exile.

The shrewdest of pieces of business saw Howard Wilkinson fork out £400,000 to bring Chapman, a player he knew well from his days at Sheffield Wednesday, to Elland Road in January 1990 and he provided some goalscoring thrust to enable the Whites end their eight-year tenure in the second tier and return to the top-flight, grabbing the goal that matters at Bournemouth to seal promotion and the title that May.

A goal-laden 1990-91 saw Chapman – noted for his strong aerial ability – top the Division One scoring charts with 30 as United finished fourth, with the great championship prize following the season after in 1991-92.

Chapman, who formed a hugely successful little-and-large combo with Rod Wallace, scored 16 goals in 38 games, including goals away to the rest of the top four in Manchester United, Sheffield Wednesday and Arsenal, which led to him being included in the five English players of the year in the reputable European Football Yearbook.

5) JIMMY FLOYD-HASSELBAINK: A Dutch striker with attitude in Hasselbaink always had a penchant for the spectacular, with his explosive shooting transforming many United fans back to the heyday of Peter Lorimer.

Signed for £2m in June 1997, Hasselbaink’s trade-mark cartwheel goalscoring celebrations were a common sight in the late 1990s before being transferred for a cool £12m to Atletico Madrid in the summer of 1999, with most of the 42 goals in 89 appearances for the club being memorable ones.

6) MARK VIDUKA: The Aussie striker was blessed with an imposing physical frame, but with consummate skills and the deftness of touch far removed from the traditional’ ‘big man’ up front.

David O’Leary forked out £6m to land him from Glasgow Celtic just before the 2000-01 and Viduka’s class was soon obvious, never better expressed than in one of the famous-ever virtuoso goalscoring shows in United – and Premiership history – when he sensationally hit all four goals to down Liverpool in front of a 40,000 Elland Road full house in November 2000.

At a time when United’s striking stable was a formidable one, Viduka was the best of the lot, and as with Hasselbaink, many of his 72 goals from 162 starts were deliciously-executed ones.

Leeds United's home Elland Road. Picture: Jonathan Gawthorpe

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