One of Leeds United’s greatest talents of the post-Revie era, made his Whites debut against Nottingham Forest 19 years ago tomorrow.
Jonathan Woodgate was the player and despite multiple serious injury lay-offs and a court case which left his career in limbo, the elegant defender is still fondly remembered for his time at the Elland Road club.
Woodgate’s career at the club started well, when he emerged with a crop of talented youngsters like Alan Smith, Stephen McPhail, Harry Kewell, Paul Robinson and Matthew Jones.
The group had won the 1997 FA Youth Cup and many, like Woodgate, went on to establish themselves as part of David O’Leary’s first team at the turn of the Millennium.
Woodgate was quickly dubbed the ‘Jewel in the Crown’ and, despite living in hometown Middlesbrough, made the regular long commute down to Elland Road where his strength, skill and composure quickly caught the eye of those who watched, having all the hallmarks of a future United great.
Woodgate’s performances inevitably led to success for United as well, as his first four years at the team saw them finish in the Premier League’s top five each season as they looked to establish themselves at the top table of English football once again.
European nights were also back on the calendar, as O’Leary’s Whites rubbed shoulders with the European giants of the game like Real Madrid, Barcelona and AC Milan.
This level seemed like Woodgate’s natural home despite his tender years.
Off the pitch however, his fledgling career took a pivotal and damaging turn.
A nightclub incident in Leeds in January 2000 saw him eventually convicted of affray nearly two years later as the exhausting trips to court took their toll on Woodgate’s performances.
His England career also lay in tatters as he was prevented from competing at both the 2000 European Championships and 2002 World Cup, while the court case dragged on.
Injuries would unfortunately take their toll as well, seeing him play only a bit part role in his final years at Leeds before he was sold to Newcastle United for £9million midway through the 2002-03 campaign as Leeds chairman Peter Risdale desperately tried to reduce the Whites’ crippling debts which had spiralled out of control.
Injuries wouldn’t leave him alone at Newcastle either, as he once again competed for the Magpies in Europe but was forced to sit out his remaining months there.
Despite still being injured, he then became a surprising addition to the all-star squad of Real Madrid in the 2004-05 season, which boasted legends of the game such as Zinedine Zidane, Luís Figo and Brazil striker Ronaldo, as well as fellow England internationals David Beckham and Michael Owen.
This period, however, is mainly remembered for Woodgate’s nightmare debut the season after, in which he scored an own goal and was later sent off.
There would eventually be something for Woodgate to show from his career, after he followed a stagnant two-year period at Middlesbrough with League Cup success at Tottenham, where his extra-time goal clinched the trophy and earned him the award for man of the match.
To many, including himself, this is seen as something of an underwhelming return considering the brilliant promise he showed in his first few years at Leeds United.
But for all the disappointments along the way, this is ultimately how many at Leeds will remember him, as they cast their minds all the way back to the exciting, talented teenage defender from Teesside.