Sir Bobby Robson thought he might just have landed the final piece of his Newcastle jigsaw when he prised Jonathan Woodgate from Leeds’ grasp on this day in 2003.
The Magpies took advantage of the Elland Road club’s impending financial implosion when they swooped with a successful £9million bid for the then 23-year-old, in the process adding a cultured central defender to a squad which, at the time, was sitting in second place in the Premier League table.
As his new acquisition was unveiled, Robson said: “In a way, he is the final piece of the jigsaw, but we mustn’t lose our ambition. But I’m happy that we do seem to have got an exquisite squad, a squad that’s got a real chance of challenging Arsenal and Manchester United.”
Middlesbrough-born Woodgate had made his name in David O’Leary’s youthful side, which reached the Champions League semi-finals in 2001, winning the first of eight senior caps for England against Bulgaria as a 19-year-old in June 1999.
However, he arrived at St James’ Park on a four-and-a-half-year contract still dealing with the fall-out from a conviction for affray over his part in an assault on a student following a trial at Hull Crown Court in 2001.
Speaking at the time, he said: “It’s been the hardest time of my life. You look back and you think of things that you’ve done wrong – and I’ve done a few things wrong – but I’ve got over them and I’m going to start afresh at Newcastle United and hopefully go from strength to strength.”
Woodgate was injured when he signed for the Magpies, but when fit, oozed class, and it was with shock that his £13.4million switch to Spanish giants Real Madrid in August 2004 was greeted on Tyneside after just 37 appearances.
Sadly, he was never really able to prove his worth in Spain as fitness concerns persisted, and he eventually returned to England to rebuild his career with home-town club Middlesbrough, initially on loan, Tottenham – where he scored an extra-time winner in the 2008 Carling Cup final – and Stoke.
He finished his playing career back at Boro before stepping into the coaching side of the game, so impressing chairman Steve Gibson that he appointed him as head coach on a three-year deal in June 2019 at the age of 39, although he lasted only a year at the helm.