Leeds United nostalgia: Bridges enjoyed one season to savour

MENTION the name Michael Bridges to Leeds United fans and it’s a fair bet you will receive the following short answer. If only.

Monday, 29th July 2013, 1:01 am

Injuries are part and parcel of the modern-day game for footballers across the land and likeable north-easterner Bridges suffered from his fair share of them – and more – during his bittersweet time at Elland Road.

Despite captivating Whites supporters with some memorable goalscoring contributions in his early career at LS11, Bridges saw too much of the treatment room and had more surgeon’s appointments than he’d care to remember with a catalogue of injuries sidelining him for most his spell in West Yorkshire.

A career-threatening Achilles injury proved Bridges’ greatest bugbear, a far cry from his fabulous first full season at United after joining the club for a then club record fee of £5m from Sunderland – exactly 14 years ago today as coincidence would have it – with the striker turning down interest from George Graham’s Spurs.

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Bridges, who turns 35 next Monday and is still playing in the A-League at Sydney, fully justified the big fee paid for him by former Whites chief David O’Leary and looked very much a natural born Premier League finisher throughout 1999-2000 when he looked an England player in waiting.

A stunning treble in just his second start for United – in a 3-0 victory at Southampton – emphatically announced Bridges’ arrival with that haul reaching a far from unlucky 13 by Boxing Day.

Several were noteworthy ones including the winner in a 3-2 home win over Newcastle in October 1999, who he would later join on loan, with doubles also coming in a thrilling 4-4 draw at Goodison Park and a 3-0 Uefa Cup victory at Lokomotiv Moscow as United scented European silverware en route to bowing out in the semi-finals.

Four goals in his final five games of his maiden season at Leeds took his tally to an impressive 21, with the promise of stacks more to come in future years from the forward, still a few months shy of his 22nd birthday at the end of the 1999-2000 campaign.

Then, it started. The injury hell, with the date of October 18, 2000, just 11 games into the famous 2000-01 season when United truly took off, one that Bridges will never forget.

A serious Achilles injury sustained in a Champions League clash with Besiktas ensured he was not seen in competitive action for almost two years – his next appearance coming in a Uefa Cup tie against Metalurg Zaporizhia on September 19, 2002.

The comeback never gathered true speed with a knee injury adding to the woes of Bridges, who then suffered the cruellest of blows when he ruptured his other Achilles in a Uefa Cup game against Malaga in December 2002.

Another endless round of rehab continued, but Bridges’ glory days at Elland Road were all but over. It was good while it lasted, although unfortunately that was only for one glorious full season for unlucky Bridges.