Leeds United nostalgia: Fractious summer eventually led to Hasselbaink’s departure

Jimmy Floyd Hasselbaink.
Jimmy Floyd Hasselbaink.
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Jimmy Floyd Hasselbaink turned Leeds United a tidy profit. Bought for £2million in 1997, Atletico Madrid paid £10million more to take him from Elland Road two years later.

Such was Leeds’ ambition by the end of the millennium that the fee involved was little consolation for a messy and acrimonious transfer. United agreed to sell Hasselbaink with great reluctance but with their chairman and manager at the end of their tether.

By the summer of 1999, and with two excellent seasons behind him, Hasselbaink was increasingly aware of his own value. Prolific in the Premier League, Leeds knew the striker was a sought-after commodity and offered him what manager David O’Leary called “the biggest contract in the club’s history.”

Hasselbaink rejected that deal and returned with his own demands; demands which Leeds saw as ludicrous. United’s chairman, Peter Ridsdale, tried to bring about an agreement but refused to go as far as Hasselbaink wanted, leaving the two sides at an impasse.

Before long, news of the disagreement began to leak out and Hasselbaink was rapidly painted as the villain by United’s support. He played in a pre-season friendly against Birmingham City in July but was greeted by a banner in the crowd reading ‘Hasselbaink: Judas, Greedy, Selfish’.

O’Leary struggled to contain his frustration as it became clear that Hasselbaink’s contract talks were headed for collapse.

“I’m not surprised that people are calling him a greedy son of a bitch,” O’Leary said.

“He keeps on peeling off from the rest of the players in training and asking me why I won’t pay him what he wants or sell him. I’m sick to death of it.”

Recently, in an interview with the YEP, Hasselbaink gave a different version of events.

“I never wanted to leave,” he said. “I wanted to be a Leeds player for the rest of my career.

“I didn’t make stupid demands but I did ask the club to make an offer somewhere close to what other clubs were offering.

“Give me 20 per cent less than that or 30 per cent less, no problem. It went nowhere and I’ve always felt that the club basically wanted to sell me.”

United’s annoyance was in no small part down to the quality of the player they were about to lose. Hasselbaink had signed during George Graham’s reign as manager, a slightly unfamiliar forward who came from Boavista in Portugal, and proved to be a huge success.

The Dutchman scored 22 goals in his first season and 20 in his second, mixing close-range poaching with more spectacular strikes. Around him, Leeds blooded Alan Smith and Harry Kewell and the club finished fourth in the Premiership during the 1989-99 season. Hasselbaink’s last goals – a diving header against Arsenal on May 11 – effectively settled the title race in Manchester United’s favour.

After a fractious summer, Hasselbaink eventually forced the issue by submitting a transfer request at the end of July. The following week, Leeds gave in and negotiated terms with Atletico Madrid.

“It was hard to sit back and hear people calling me greedy,” Hasselbaink said. “But I don’t hold grudges and I’d shake O’Leary’s hand if I saw him; Ridsdale’s too.

“All I could do was go and prove myself. I scored more than 30 goals for Atletico and if I’d scored them for Leeds then maybe we’d have won the title. Selling me was the wrong decision in my eyes but then again, who am I? At the end of the day it was a decision for O’Leary and Ridsdale to make. They had their vision for the club.”