Les Ferdinand was massively popular when he played for Newcastle United.
It is now 22 years since he left and the fans still love him.
The two years he played for NUFC, they finished second in the Premier League both seasons, the closest the club had come to winning the league since 1927.
The first season saw Les Ferdinand paired with Peter Beardsley and in the second it was different kind of formation with Alan Shearer his strike partner, with Beardsley in another role.
That second season saw Ferdinand and Shearer score 49 goals between them in all competitions.
Sir Les left Newcastle United in summer 1997 and says about going from St James Park to White Hart Lane: ‘From a football perspective that was probably the worst decision I made.’
Kevin Keegan left Newcastle halfway through the striker’s final season and Les Ferdinand has been widely reported previously as one of the reasons he did so.
John Hall and Freddy Shepherd were looking to float the club on the stock exchange and wanted Kevin Keegan to sell certain players to help the financial position look better before the flotation.
As Les Ferdinand indicates below, Shepherd and Hall thought £6m for a 30 year old was too good to turn down, whereas Kevin Keegan didn’t, he understood that class players such as Les Ferdinand were rare things. Which other club would be so stupid as to pressure a manager to break up Alan Shearer and Les Ferdinand, a partnership capable of delivering 49 goals in a season?
The season after Les Ferdinand left, Newcastle went from only Man Utd having scored more than NUFC’s 73 PL goals in 1996/97, to only Wimbledon scoring less than NUFC’s 35 goals in 1997/98.
Kenny Dalglish took over from Keegan and he (Dalglish) was happy to do Shepherd and Hall’s bidding, selling Les Ferdinand for £6m and, ironically, bringing in ‘cheap’ free transfer replacements in his mates Ian Rush (aged 35) and John Barnes (aged 33), as well as 35 year old Stuart Pearce.
As for £6m being a great price for a 30 year old Les Ferdinand…Newcastle went on to waste fortunes eventually in trying to find goalscorers with Jon Dahl Tomasson, then Andreas Andersson and many others.
The injury to Alan Shearer was of course something that massively compounded the problem of selling Les Ferdinand BUT when you do stupid things such as selling a class act like Sir Les, you often get these things happening.
Now 22 years later Newcastle United are relying on a loan striker, one who puts his fingers in his ears to fans despite scoring only two goals in these past eight months, plus a Stoke City reserve striker who cost less than the fee Newcastle banked for Ferdinand 22 years ago.
Les Ferdinand speaking to the Sky Sports News Transfer Talk podcast:
“I didn’t want to leave Newcastle United.
“I was there for two years and I would have spent the rest of my career there. I thought it was a great club and thought we were on the cusp of winning something.
“But I think managers, and certainly British managers that I’ve come across, they like to change it because if they don’t change it and that team goes on to be successful, everyone talks about it being the previous manager’s team.
“Kenny (Dalglish) had his own ideas, he came in and he needed to raise funds.
“He did say to me he didn’t want me to leave, but the club were looking to raise funds, and he was pretty honest with me. He said he didn’t want to lose me but I didn’t really believe it.
“Tottenham came up with £6m, I had been there for two years, I was 30 and Newcastle probably saw it as good business.
“There were a couple of other clubs that came in, Liverpool only wanted to pay £3.5m, Sheffield Wednesday were willing to pay £6m, so I remember speaking to David Pleat. But I thought if I am going to leave Newcastle, Tottenham were my boyhood club so that was where I was going to go. I knew the club was in a bit of turmoil at the time, but after speaking with Alan Sugar he utterly convinced me to sign for Tottenham.
“People go through their careers and say they don’t have regrets, but from a football perspective that was probably the worst decision I made (joining Spurs).
“Tottenham were a club in unbelievable turmoil and I didn’t realise how bad it was until I got there. In my first five years, I had four different managers and a change of board, so that tells you the type of turmoil the club was in. I made a decision based on pride rather than what was best for my football career.
“When I left QPR and went to Newcastle that was a football decision because I felt I was going to become a better player and I think I did become a better player.
“When I left Newcastle to go to Tottenham I probably allowed my pride to get in the way of making what was the right decision for my career. But I enjoyed playing for Tottenham.
“I was in a restaurant on Saturday night, Newcastle had already gone to the Umbro tournament and I had a call on the previous Thursday that they had accepted a bid from Tottenham and that they wanted me to come down for a medical.
“I had the medical on the Friday and I was sitting in a restaurant on the Saturday when I got a call from my agent saying that Alan had broken his ankle at the Umbro tournament and could be out for the season.
“He said Newcastle want me to come back, but they were not allowed to speak to me and could only speak to me through him, because they had accepted the bid from Tottenham.
“Unless I turned down Tottenham they were not allowed to approach me.
“They came down on the Sunday spoke with my agent and told him what they would pay me to come back, so he was hoping to go back to Tottenham and say you’ve got to match that.
“I felt I was shabbily treated by the club. I remember speaking with Alan on the phone and he said to me ‘this is my boyhood club, I love it and I would love it for you to come back, but because of the way you’ve been treated I understand if you didn’t’.
“I had really made up my mind because of the way that I had been treated.
“I felt bad for the supporters, I really wanted to go back because I really enjoyed playing in front of them. But didn’t feel what the club had done was right.”