Jonathan Woodgate exclusive: “My period at Leeds was special – but I feel unfulfilled”

Jonathan Woodgate
(Image credit: PA Images)

Many players have seen their careers blighted by recurring injury problems, but few are associated with the treatment room quite like Jonathan Woodgate was during his playing days. 

The former England international played for some big clubs, including Real Madrid and Tottenham Hotspur, but countless injury lay-offs meant a promising career ended up being highly frustrating at times. 

"I’d say I was honest and passionate, but the one word which springs to mind more than any other is unfulfilled," Woodgate tells the March issue of FourFourTwo, which you can order here (opens in new tab). "It does my head in, because my career could have been so much different but for all the injuries. I sometimes study my playing statistics, then compare them to the players of a similar age who notched up more than 500 appearances. Looking back, a lot of it was my own fault because I always used to rush back from injuries."

Jonathan Woodgate, FourFourTwo March 2021, Real Madrid, Newcastle, Middlesbrough, Leeds

(Image credit: Future)

Despite joining a Galactico Madrid side featuring the likes of David Beckham, Zinedine Zidane and Ronaldo, it is Woodgate's early days at Leeds United, the club he joined as a youth player, he remembers most fondly. 

"I started at Leeds and it’s the club I’m most identified with," he reflects. "I’ve got a soft spot for every club I played for, but that period was special. We had some fantastic runs in the UEFA Cup and Champions League, and for a time were fighting for the league title.

"We had 18, 19 and 20-year-olds playing week in, week out, so it was only going to improve. Quite a few of us were internationals while in our teens – myself, Gary Kelly, Ian Harte and Harry Kewell all came through the ranks. But it wasn’t just about the homegrown players – Rio Ferdinand, Robbie Keane, Michael Bridges, Dominic Matteo and Robbie Fowler arrived with their best years ahead of them."

Son Heung-min, Tottenham Hotspur, FourFourTwo March 2021

(Image credit: Future)

Despite his own injury woes, Woodgate counts a member of that crop as even more unlucky than himself when it came to niggles.

"Bridgey was even more unfortunate than me when it came to injuries," he laments. "He joined from Sunderland and scored 20 goals in his debut season. I’m convinced had he stayed fit, he’d have been leading England’s attack at the 2002 World Cup. 

"I remember a UEFA Cup tie at Lokomotiv Moscow when I swear Bridgey gave the best performance I’ve ever seen from a No.9. He was upfront on his own, holding the ball up, bringing others into play, running in behind, dragging defenders all over the place, and he scored a couple of goals, too."

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