Rio Ferdinand has told BT Sport that he was forced into leaving Leeds United in 2002 in order to save the club’s finances, but also admitted that he wanted to join Manchester United. He spoke about criticism from Leeds fans.

Now 43, the 81-time England international joined Leeds from West Ham in November 2000 for a fee of £18million. But after just two years and 73 appearances for us, he decided to join Manchester United. Leeds made a £12million profit.

He was quickly becoming one of Leeds’ best-ever players – certainly, of the modern era. He was part of the side that reached the Champions League semi-final. Ferdinand was even captain. At the 2002 World Cup, he was a Leeds player.

But as Leeds finances began to worsen, he made a decision that would see Leeds fans look at him in a different light. Indeed, he left Elland Road to join bitter rivals Manchester United. The rest is history, becoming an Old Trafford legend.

Ferdinand spoke of how he has been criticised by our fanbase at times – and tried to put the record straight. He claims that he had to be sold, in order to bring in some much-needed cash for Leeds. He also discussed joining Leeds.

Leeds Fans
Photo by Laurence Griffiths/Getty Images

Ferdinand forced into leaving Leeds to join Manchester United

“I went before transfer windows happened. I played against Leeds on a Wednesday night, we won. [Freddy] Kanoute scored. Leeds fans were singing my name, there were rumours they were trying to buy me.

“I was out shopping with my dad, it was the Chief Executive at West Ham. He said ‘We’ve accepted a bid of £18m from Leeds’. The moment he said that, I was gone. I got there, ready to go into the meeting, Chelsea rang.

“They said we’ll match whatever Leeds are offering. I said ‘listen, thank you, but I need to leave London’. I was getting into a lot of trouble off the pitch. My mates were always out, I was like a social butterfly.

Then, he told Joe Cole’s podcast about leaving Leeds a couple of seasons later. He says he was happy at Leeds – but his agent, Pini Zahavi, was saying that we financially, were not. He says he stopped Leeds from going extinct.

“My agent was in the know, Pini Zahavi. After the season finished, he was saying clubs were interested. I said I’m happy at Leeds, but he said Leeds weren’t in a good place – they need to sell you. If they don’t sell you, you have to sell 10.

“Recently, I went to a game – Leeds fans were bang on me. If you look at the detail, I had to leave. Manchester United – I know there is a rivalry. But I brought £30m in to your club, I stopped you going extinct. That baffled me.”

Rio Ferdinand, Peter Risdale
26 Nov 2000: Leeds United record signing Rio Ferdinand receives his new shirt from Leeds United chairman Peter Risdale before the FA Carling Premi…

Are Leeds fans right to criticise Ferdinand for joining Manchester United?

While there is trust in what Ferdinand says – Leeds obviously needed the cash. The financial meltdown was a whole lot worse in the next two years following his move. But had Leeds not raked in £30million, then it would have been worse.

However, what Leeds fans are right to criticise, is the fact he chose to join Manchester United. As stated, Ferdinand says that Chelsea showed interest in his services before Leeds. There would have been other clubs he may have joined.

Indeed, Ferdinand even says that clubs are interested in signing him even in his first summer after joining Leeds. If he had joined any other club, the respect would still be intact – understanding his exit. Manchester United changes that.

Liverpool v Leeds
13 Apr 2001: Rio Ferdinand of Leeds celebrates after scoring the first goal during the Liverpool v Leeds United FA Carling Premiership match at An…

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