In November 2000, Leeds broke the British transfer record and made Rio Ferdinand the world’s most expensive defender.
The Whites forked out £18m to whisk Ferdinand away from West Ham, with lofty ambitions to become one of the Premier League’s elite funding an extensive recruitment drive.
But while Leeds’ fortunes began to falter soon after, Ferdinand’s stock continued to soar – and soon enough he was being linked with a move to Manchester United, at that time the most dominant club in the country.
Talk of a transfer was mooted for months, and although Leeds chairman Peter Ridsdale was reluctant to let Ferdinand go, it soon became apparent that he had his heart set on a move to Old Trafford. Eventually, a £30m transfer was agreed in the summer of 2002, and it was there that he went on to become one of the Premier League’s greatest ever defenders.
Recalling how the transfer came about, Ferdinand admitted to BT Sport (via the Mirror) that he would have gone public to force through a move, had he needed to.
“I fortunately enough was never put in a position where I had to go in all guns blazing, but trust me, if I’d needed to i would have,” Ferdinand remarked. “At Leeds I went and sat in Mr Ridsdale’s office and just sat there and waited for about five, six hours and said I’m not going until you sort out the deal for me to go to Man Utd.
“I didn’t go public, I didn’t need to go. We got to a compromise, we got to a situation where he felt he was getting the right part of the deal and I got my opportunity to go to Man Utd.
“But I was adamant I wanted to go because that was the right time and the right move for me.”
Ferdinand’s decision to move to a bitter rival caused understandable tension between the two clubs and their supporters, with many Leeds fans angry that he’d decided to leave after previously telling The Sun he had no intention of leaving.
Despite that, Ferdinand said he had no choice but to make the best possible decision for his career.
“If he had said no and put a firm wall up I reckon I probably would’ve gone public with that because I feel, as a player, its a short window in terms of being able to be successful. 10 – 15 years if that. You’ve got to make decisions that are a little bit selfish. As a fan and as a football club I get that you might not understand that, but it works both ways.”
Ferdinand’s departure signalled a mass exodus of players from Elland Road, as Leeds‘ team of fantastic young players disbanded for pastures new. Not long after, the Whites were relegated from the Premier League – eventually ending a 16-year absence from the top flight after earning promotion under Marcelo Bielsa.