Leeds clinch $25-million deal for West Ham defender
Updated: Sunday November 26, 2000 11:00 PM
LEEDS, England (Reuters) -- England international Rio Ferdinand became the world's most expensive defender when he completed his 18 million pounds (US$25.32 million) move to English Premier League club Leeds United on Sunday.
After committing himself to a 5-1/2 year contract at Elland Road, 22-year-old Ferdinand said the price tag did not concern him.
"I'm here to play football and raise my game. European football is what I need and what I want. Leeds can offer me that, so this is a big step forward for me."
Confirmation of the record deal had been delayed while Ferdinand thought over the transfer from West Ham United, the club he had played for since joining the junior ranks as a seven-year-old.
"It was a wrench to leave West Ham, but I am very pleased to be joining such a big and ambitious club in Leeds," Ferdinand told a press conference. "I hope I can play a big part in the future of this club."
"As soon as I spoke to the Leeds chairman [Peter Risdale] I realized the ambition of the club. Mr. Ridsdale impressed me beyond belief, and I can see the potential in the side. The manager and his thoughts and ideas played a big part as well."
Ferdinand believes his game will improve under Leeds boss David O'Leary.
"The manager played in the same position as me," he said. "He was a world-class center half himself and he has a lot to offer me."
The deal for the center-back eclipsed the previous world record for a defender, set by Manchester United when they paid PSV Eindhoven 10.75 million pounds (US$15.12 million) for Dutch international Jaap Stam in 1998.
It also represented the biggest transfer involving a British club, overshadowing the 15 million pounds paid by Newcastle United in 1996 for Alan Shearer and Chelsea in 2000 for Jimmy Floyd Hasselbaink.
Leeds chairman Peter Ridsdale has attracted criticism for agreeing to the fee, but he said he believed the club had "got a bargain."
"We are often criticized in this country for not supporting English talent. I think Leeds have done more than most before today to demonstrate that where possible we will continue to support home-grown talent.
"We're in a natural market place and that market means that if there's a rare commodity -- and Rio is a rare commodity, he's very special -- there's a price to pay.
"We've decided that price is acceptable... As far as we're concerned this underlines the ambition and the commitment of this club."
The Yorkshire club will pay West Ham an initial fee of 12 million pounds, with the remainder to follow.
The move had come close to a conclusion on Saturday, when Ferdinand agreed what is reported in British newspapers to be a "loyalty" payment from West Ham of up to 2 million pounds (US$2.81 million), before travelling to Elland Road to pass a routine medical.
He was introduced to the Leeds supporters moments before their premier league match against Arsenal on Sunday.
Ferdinand is expected to make his Leeds debut in their match at Leicester City on December 2.
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