In 1997, Les Ferdinand stunned the English footballing world and broke Newcastle hearts by leaving St James’ Park to join Tottenham Hotspur in a deal worth £6m.
A clinical finisher, Ferdinand was coming off the back of two sensational seasons for the Magpies, where he scored 25 and 16 goals from 1995 to 1997. He was one of the hottest prospects in the Premier League, and seemed to have found an ideal strike partner in Alan Shearer.
However, he surprisingly left Tyneside for north London, and rumours swirled that he was keen to get out of Shearer’s shadow to become the main man for the club he supported as a boy.
Over 20 years on, Ferdinand has denied these claims, stressing that he was actually sold against his will by the Magpies, who were keen to put all their eggs in Shearer’s basket.
“No, Alan Shearer was not the reason I left Newcastle,” he explained, in quotes carried by London News Online. “What basically happened is when it all happened and Alan Shearer came to the club, the one thing Kevin Keegan did with me, he pulled me to the side and said: ‘Look, because I am signing Shearer, everybody is going to assume that this is the end of Les Ferdinand.
“But I believe you and Alan Shearer can play together and I want you to play together. The reason I am buying him is for you two to play together but there’s going to be a lot of furore’. And that was the case.
“We had one season together and we ended up top goalscorers in the Premier League as a pairing. So it was a successful partnership. But the year Alan signed, Keegan left the job and Kenny Dalglish took over, and he kept saying to me the club wanted and needed to raise £6m and that he was going to fight (to keep me).
It quickly became apparent to Ferdinand that Dalglish’s promises were not to be trusted, and he soon realised the club was prepared to sell him in order to raise the required funds.
“I said: ‘Look, if the club wants to sell me, sell me, there is not a problem, you know’. I had a few options, but I grew up supporting Spurs as a kid and it was a dream about to come true, to come and play for the team you supported as a boy.”
It should have been a dream for Ferdinand to play for the team he grew up supporting as a child, but he failed to hit the heights he enjoyed at Newcastle – managing to reach double figures only once during his time at White Hart Lane.
But he’d arrived at a club far less prepared to fight for trophies or titles at that time, and has since spoken of the ‘turmoil’ which Spurs faced in that fruitless period.
“When I say ‘disappointment of going to Tottenham’, when I went to Tottenham it wasn’t the club that I expected it to be and I quantify that because in the time I was there, I was there seven and a half years and in my first five years we had five different managers and a change of board.
“The club was going through a lot of turmoil at the time. So from being at Newcastle where for two years we were challenging for trying to win the league, I went to a club that I was hoping was going to be in the same bracket. But unfortunately, it took a lot longer for it to get there than I was hoping for.”