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Saturday, 1 February, 2003, 13:18 GMT
Newcastle's prize gem
Woodgate faces a new challenge at Newcastle United
Woodgate faces a new challenge at Newcastle United
BBC Sport Online's Phil McNulty

Jonathan Woodgate was labelled the "crown jewel" by Leeds United chairman Peter Ridsdale - and Newcastle United believe they have stolen a gem for 9m.

Newcastle have captured an England defender many believe to be as good as Rio Ferdinand for 21m less than the fee Manchester United paid for his former Leeds team-mate in the summer.

And that is why Woodgate's arrival has got the Toon Army dreaming of their first serious trophy since 1969 - and their first league title since 1927.

But the move that has left, through no fault of the player, such bitterness and acrimony behind at Leeds, is just as important for Woodgate as Newcastle.

For Newcastle, Woodgate is regarded as the antidote to the main problem threatening their chances of invading the old order of Arsenal and Manchester United in the Premiership's elite group.

ROBSON'S BIG DEALS
Laurent Robert 9.5m
Jonathan Woodgate 9m from Leeds
Hugo Viana 8.5m
Carl Cort 7m
Craig Bellamy 6m
Jermaine Jenas 5m

Goals are guaranteed from Craig Bellamy and Alan Shearer. The midfield is packed with imagination and pace in the shape of Jermaine Jenas and Kieron Dyer.

But the potential for calamity lurks at the back - as proved by damaging defeats at Bolton and in the FA Cup at Wolves this season.

Woodgate fits the identikit of the signing Robson calls "perfect for Newcastle United."

He is young, talented, fiercely ambitious - and in this case met Robson's final demand.

Woodgate is English.

For Woodgate, the stage at Newcastle offers another step on the road to personal and professional recovery.

Newcastle want to look down on the rest
Newcastle want to look down on the rest

Woodgate was at pains to pacify the Newcastle fans who objected to his signing following the furore when he was found guilty of affray in connection with an attack on a student.

And he stressed he has learned from his mistakes and is now ready to fulfil the huge potential that made his departure so painful for Leeds boss Terry Venables.

But he knows the best way to sweep away the doubts is to produce the form that won him full England honours as far back as 1999.

And in doing so, he could write his name into Newcastle folklore if he becomes part of a team that fuilfils the craving for silverware among their long-suffering fans.

He could also unwittingly inflict more pain on Leeds United if one of football's typical ironies comes to pass.

Woodgate can revive a partnership with his former Leeds United team-mate Rio Ferdinand at international level if he displays his best form at Newcastle.

It would be the final insult for Leeds fans scarred by the asset-stripping of recent months.

But would be the final stop on a traumatic road to rehabilitation for Woodgate.

Leeds United in crisis

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