Jonathan Woodgate reflects on special Leeds United memories but plans to upset the applecart with Middlesbrough

JONATHAN WOODGATE has reflected on his "special" memories as a player with Leeds United but admits he is desperate for his Middlesbrough side to cause a huge upset in Saturday's Championship clash at Elland Road.

By Lee Sobot
Friday, 29th November 2019, 2:00 pm
Updated Friday, 29th November 2019, 5:51 pm
FORMER FAVOURITE: Centre-back Jonathan Woodgate towers above striker Ole Gunnar Solskjaer during the Premiership clash between Leeds United and Manchester United in September 2002. Photo by PAUL BARKER/AFP via Getty Images.
FORMER FAVOURITE: Centre-back Jonathan Woodgate towers above striker Ole Gunnar Solskjaer during the Premiership clash between Leeds United and Manchester United in September 2002. Photo by PAUL BARKER/AFP via Getty Images.

Middlesbrough-born Woodgate signed schoolboy forms with Leeds as a 14-year-old before relocating to the club's Academy at Thorp Arch two years later in 1996.

The defender then made his Whites first team debut as an 18-year-old in a 1-1 draw at Nottingham Forest in October 1998 as part of a season in which Leeds finished fourth in the Premier League under David O'Leary.

The first of eight caps for England followed in June and the following season Woodgate and Leeds sealed a third-placed finish in the Premier League before United enjoyed a magical run in the Champions League which took the Whites to a two-legged semi-final against Valencia.

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In total, Woodgate made 142 appearances for the Whites - scoring five times - with the defender eventually sold to Newcastle United for £9m in January 2003.

Nearly 17 years later, the former defender is in his first job in management with his Middlesbrough side heading to Elland Road on Saturday looking to halt United's four-game winning run.

Blessed by such terrific Whites memories, Woodgate admits even today he is always taking a particular interest in United's results.

For one week only, come 5pm on Saturday tea-time, this time Woodgate hopes the Whites are staring at a loss.

"Middlesbrough is my club, I was born and bred in Middlesbrough," said Woodgate.

"But obviously I do look for the Leeds results.

"It has got a special place in my heart coming through the youth ranks but there’s only one team I want to win.

"If I was managing Shrewsbury and went to Leeds United I'd want Shrewsbury to win wouldn't I? Of course I want us to win.

"I'm desperate for us to win down there, but it’s going to be a really difficult game down there, they are a top side."

Reflecting on his memories of his time at Leeds, Woodgate recalled: "I signed schoolboy forms there when I was a 14 year old, I made my debut there when I was 18 and I played there for many years. They taught me a lot of lessons, Leeds United

"I met three fantastic youth team coaches in Robin Wray, Paul Hart and Eddie Gray who brought me up really when I was a young lad from Middlesbrough.

"I moved down to Wetherby at the age of 16 and I learnt so much from that club.

"It’s special and a special place for me. The fans have always been excellent with me, I had a good rapport with them and it's an exceptionally good club.

"I've got really fond memories of being at Leeds United."

Following his spells with Leeds, Newcastle, Real Madrid, Middlesbrough, Tottenham Hotspur and Stoke City as a player, Woodgate's playing career ended with a second spell at Boro with the former defender then joining the Boro coaching staff.

The former Whites defender was then handed the managerial reins in succeeding Tony Pulis back in June.

Now Woodgate is heading for a first ever meeting with Whites head coach Bielsa who is 25 years his senior with Bielsa in charge of the Argentina national side as Woodgate made his breakthrough at Leeds.

Woodgate was impressed that United even managed to recruit Bielsa in the first place.

"It raised eyebrows because no-one thought they could get Bielsa," said the Boro boss. "And they produced it out of nothing.

"They did a fantastic job getting him to be honest and how they got a manager of that calibre is a credit really to them.

"It’s down to the club itself and the fanbase and the fans and what they can do as a football club.

"Leeds United is a massive, huge football club and they've done unbelievable to get him and he’s done a great job there."

Fifth-bottom Boro are now as big as 11-1 to win at Elland Road on Saturday and Woodgate is in no doubt as to the size of the task ahead.

"They are an exceptional team. Fantastic," he said.

"They have got a fantastic manager who has got experience in world football, he's a well respected coach and he is doing an absolutely unbelievable job at that club.

"Last season, okay they dipped towards the end but from when he took over they have improved so much.

"They have got some fantastic talented players and it will be a really difficult game, especially with the atmosphere they have at Elland Road.

"It will be a really tough game for us."