Manchester United took advantage of rival Leeds United’s financial woes to sign Rio Ferdinand for the British record of £ 30 million on 22 July 2002.
To Sir Alex Ferguson, it would have been seen as a direct threat.
Two years after leading his team to Agudos glory at Camp Nou that resulted in that knighthood, here was Leeds United in a Champions League semi-final.
And Ferguson didn’t like Leeds United.
Or rather he knew that Leeds United didn’t like him.
Ten years earlier, in 1991, there was a trip to Elland Road that Ferguson would one day recall as full of “pandemonium” from local fans.
He would write in his autobiography that: “Some of the fans had their children on their shoulders, radiating the most incredible hatred.
“We got a bit of a beating in the second half, but Lee Sharpe had run away, at 0-0, with two minutes to go, to score. He looked like 10 yards offside.” He was on the field, (coach) Eric Harrison was on the bench.
“A lot of people think Eric looks like me. A Leeds fan certainly did, because he hit Eric, he absolutely criticized him. The guy thought he was hitting me.”
That didn’t deter Ferguson from returning to Leeds to sign Eric Cantona a year later, but nearly a decade alongside David O’Leary were building a team capable of threatening rivals both at home and abroad.
At least that’s what it looked like on the surface.
Behind the scenes, of course, Leeds was experiencing a deep financial crisis.
President Peter Ridsdale had borrowed £ 60 million for future success, but failure to qualify for the Champions League in both 2001 and 2002 meant the club was in serious trouble.
And Ferguson wanted to exploit that.
He so he did.
“I identified him many years ago,” Ferguson said beaming as he stood next to Rio Ferdinand, whom he had signed from Leeds for a British record of £ 30 million on July 22, 2002.
“When you identify a particular great player, you think about how you could bring him here.
“That wasn’t going to be easy, but the board loved him as much as I did and who wouldn’t want him at Old Trafford?
“A transfer like this has to be difficult. Leeds are a great club and our fiercest rivals, and they had four years left on their contract.
“We were hopeful because of the financial situation in Leeds. I think Peter Ridsdale has admitted it.