In general, us Leeds fans are a strange bunch. It's impossible to recall the amount of conversations I've had with fellow fans that have go down the "what if?" road. What if Leeds had stayed in the Premier League just one more year? What if Risdale hadn't blown the entire transfer budget on Seth Johnson? What if that glorious team of the 70s were never cheated out of the European Cup? What if? What if? What if?!
It seems, for some strange reason, we actually take pleasure from our own pain at times. Perhaps that's why we stay with our club through it all. In the name of suffering I thought I'd recap 5 outgoing transfers that should never of happened. The departure of these five players came at key points in the club's history and added to our on going misery.
1. Eric Cantona
Eric Cantona with the First Division trophyAlthough Cantona's stay in Yorkshire was brief, he played a vital role in one of the club's more successful periods. After arriving in the summer of 1992, when a move to Sheffied Wednesday failed to materialise, the controversial striker helped the Whites reach the top of the old English Division 1, beating arch-rivals Manchester United along the way to be crowned the champions of England. This would be the club's third title, their previous one being nearly 20 years prior to this.
During that title winning season Cantona only managed to score three goals from his 15 appearances. But it was his play and assists that made me a crucial part of Howard Wilkinson's squad.
After winning the club's first title in nearly 20 years Leeds United kick started the inaugural season of the Premier League with the classic curtain raiser, the Charity Shield, where they faced FA Cup winners, Liverpool, at Wembley. Again, Cantona's role in this game was by no means a small one. His three goals helped Leeds to a 4-3 victory over the scousers in August 1992 and put "King Eric", as he was later named by a certain group of supporters, in a very small class of players who had netted a hatrick at the famous Wembley Stadium. And yet, nothing pains Leeds United fans more than the tale of this troublesome Frenchman.
Then, in November 1992, Cantona was shipped out Manchester for a fee of £1.2million. His departure pains Leeds fans so much, not just because it was to them lot across the Pennines, but his arrival at Old Trafford kick started Man Utd's dominance of English football for the next 20 odd years, while Leeds seem to of done the complete opposite. Not only that does that make this one of the worst transfers in Leeds United's history but it was how to all came about. If certain stories are to be believed, Bill Fothersby, then the chairman of LUFC, initial rang up his Manchester counterpart, Martin Edwards, to discuss Dennis Irwin's arrival to West Yorkshire. Instead of coming away with Irwin, Leeds lose Cantona to their bitter rivals and, well, the rest is history...
2. Nigel Martyn
Ask any Leeds United fan who the club's greatest goalkeeper is and nine out of ten will tell you it's Nigel Martyn. I am, unquestionably, in the majority on this. I love Nigel Martyn, no I adore Nigel Martyn! Growing up, my bedroom walls were covered from top to bottom in Leeds United. Posters, newspaper articles, scarves, what ever I could get my hands on. And no player featured so prominently as Nigel Martyn. Even out of pure respect for the man I can not refer to him as either his fore or surname alone.
So when this legendary goalkeeper was let go to Everton I was heartbroken. Sure the young, up and coming future England international, Paul Robinson, was waiting in the wings to take his place but nobody could replace Nigel Martyn in my eyes.
It seems that us Leeds fans aren't the only ones to hold this beautiful Cornish man so high up in our regards. Forcing Richard Wright from his starting place in the Everton goal Nigel Martyn went on to have 3 successful season with the Toffees and in 2004/05 they achieved their highest ever Premier League finish, clinching fourth place. No doubt all down to Nigel Martyn.
Some fans have a theory, and I would be inclined to agree with them, that if Nigel Martyn had spent just one more season in Yorkshire, Leeds would of survived the drop. Which in turn would of changed the club's fortunes altogether. Of course Robinson was a brilliant goalkeeper in his own right and was without a shadow of a doubt worthy of being a number 1 choice keeper. But he was, at the time, still very young and inexperienced and, unlike other positions in football, goalkeepers are the ones who tend to improve with age. Unfortunately for us, I guess we'll never know what could of been. But, for me, Nigel Martyn's departure was a damaging one and, even to this day, the repercussions can still be felt.
3. Jimmy Floyd Hasselbaink
The late 1990s was a brilliant time to be a Leeds fan. Yes, the club wasn't doing as well as they were around the start of the decade, but, the last championship was still a recent memory to many fans around then and, although it wasn't the happiest of memories, Leeds had reached the final of the League Cup since then. Former Arsenal manager, George Graham, came in to settle the ship following the sacking of Howard Wilkinson.
One of Graham's finest signings was a striker who went by the name of Jimmy Floyd Hasselbaink. Arriving in the summer of 1997 for a cool fee of £2 million this powerful Dutch international struggled, initially, to adapt to the pace of the English game. With only 5 goals prior to the Christmas period things looked bleak for Jimmy. But things soon changed and during the second half of the campaign Hasselbaink ended the season with 26 goals in all competitions. Jimmy soon became a force to be reckoned with as he found the back of the net with his thunderous right boot time and time again. Could United of finally found a replacement for cult hero, Tony Yeboah?
He soon became a firm fan favourite and in the 1998 season Jimmy helped Leeds finish fourth, thus claiming a spot in the Champions League qualification round. But, as is the nature of this article, things weren't to end well for Leeds United and the striker. And after a long summer of contract negotiations Hasselbaink was bought by Atletico Madrid for a sum of £10 million. At the time David O'Leary and Peter Risdale claimed that the striker's wage demands were completely ludicrous and that no club in their right mind would be willing to pay such extortionate amounts. Hasselbaink has recently come out and said his demands were justified and he simply wanted to be paid what he felt was deserved and what other clubs were offering the Dutchman.
Whether Jimmy's wage demands were unreasonable or not we'll never really know. But we must remember that he was the joint top goal scorer in the previous Premier League season, along with Michael Owen and Dwight Yorke. Now, I am by no way shape or form defending him, if he did indeed hold the club to ransom, but I can understand why he felt that he should of been paid more.
What pains me most about this transfer, and the reason why it is up so high on this list, is simply the timing of it. We had arguably our best striker since Yeboah left for Hamburg who was at the peak of his prime. After leaving Leeds Hasselbaink had successful stints at Atletico Madrid and Chelsea and was regularly one of the league's top goal scorers. At the time O'Leary was building an exciting, young team who were challenging for silverware. Just think what could of been had the Whites kept hold of Hasselbaink. Consider this, a squad lead in attack by Mark Viduka, Alan Smith, Harry Kewell, Robbie Keane and Jimmy Floyd Hasselbaink. Could Leeds of got their hands on the club's fourth English title, or, perhaps, of made it one stage further in their Champions League adventure and buried the ghosts of Paris 1975 once and for all?
4. Max Gradel
The sale of Max Gradel is something that still haunts Leeds fans, even four years after the Ivory Coast international departed Yorkshire. Not one single transfer window passes by where fans aren't calling out for the club to purchase a winger and fill the squad's need for some pace and width. Gradel was a player who filled that role. It was a dream to see him pick up the ball and run at the opposing defence, blistering down the wing and causing all sorts of problems for the opposition. So why on Earth was he sold?!
Infact, it's not just Gradel that should never of been sold, but the entire midfield of that squad. Snodgrass, Howson and Johnson alongside Gradel would easily be ranked as the one of Championship's strongest midfield units. Add in the current stars of the team, Lewis Cook, Sam Byram and Alex Mowatt and you've got a midfield with depth, youth, pace and experience.
Gradel become a huge fan favourite amongst the Elland Road faithful and in the season of 2010-11 won the club's Player Of The Year award and also the Player's Player Of The Year award. His form attracted the attention of many clubs around Europe and was eventually sold to Ligue 1 outfit Saint Etienne for undisclosed fee.
Recently though Gradel has made a return to England, but to the dismay of many a Leeds fan, it is not with the Whites. No, this speedy Ivorian has been snapped up by newly promoted Bournemouth while Leeds are still on the hunt for a tricky winger.