Footballers who played for both Man Utd & Leeds

Some top players have crossed the rivalry and represented both Man Utd and Leeds
Some top players have crossed the rivalry and represented both Man Utd and Leeds / Etsuo Hara/GettyImages

Generally speaking when two clubs have a big rivalry, it is relatively rare to see players playing for both clubs. That’s not really the case with Manchester United and Leeds.

The two clubs have a fierce rivalry originally stemming from a conflict over 500 years ago, but they have not been above sharing some of the finest players in the country.

Here are six top players who played for both clubs.

1. Denis Irwin

Denis Irwin
Denis Irwin is one of the all-time great Premier League full-backs / Shaun Botterill/GettyImages

For many, Denis Irwin is the most underrated Premier League player of them all. He even managed to impress Roy Keane.

While his finest years were undoubtedly at Manchester United, he started his career with the white rose of Leeds on his chest in the early 1980s.

The Irishman only played second division football with Leeds, while he won seven Premier Leagues, three FA Cups, a League Cup, a Champions League and a Cup Winners’ Cup with Man Utd.

Leeds did try to re-sign Irwin in late 1992, but that conversation actually led to Man Utd landing one of Elland Road's jewels instead.

2. Rio Ferdinand

Rio Ferdinand
Leeds paid a British record £18m for Rio Ferdinand / Ross Kinnaird/GettyImages

The sale of Rio Ferdinand to Man Utd in 2002 was the first real sign that there was about to be a big problem for Leeds.

At the height of their success, going to the Champions League semi-finals, Leeds infamously overspent - Seth Johnson, anyone?

Having also reached the elite competition, they also failed to get back there, meaning the revenue dried up and loans secured taken out against the prospect of future earnings couldn't be repaid.

Man Utd gave them a British record transfer fee of £30m to take Ferdinand to Old Trafford, keeping the wolf from the Elland Road door for at least a little while longer. Rio stayed in Manchester for 12 years.

3. Alan Smith

Alan Smith
Alan Smith swore he would never join Man Utd / Eddy LEMAISTRE/GettyImages

Alan Smith famously said during a 2002 interview that he would never join Manchester United. Just two years later, he was being unveiled as the newest Red Devil at Old Trafford.

Smith was Leeds through and through, born and raised in the city. He came though the academy and scored on his debut aged 18, becoming an invaluable first-team player by the time he was 20.

But Leeds' financial strife and 2004 relegation changed everything and the player had a heart vs head decision to make when Man Utd came calling.

Smith went with his head and Leeds pocketed £7m.

4. Gordon Strachan

Gordon Strachan
Gordon Strachan joined Leeds after playing for Man Utd / Getty Images/GettyImages

Gordon Strachan is a rarity here in that he won major honours for both Man Utd and Leeds.

He had a five-year spell at Man Utd in the 1980s, playing more than 200 games for the Red Devils and won the FA Cup in 1985. He was also soon joined at Old Trafford by his former Aberdeen boss Alex Ferguson.

As Fergie put his own stamp on Man Utd, Strachan left to join Leeds in 1989, stepping down to the second tier at the time. But it proved to be a great move as well and by 1992 he had a First Division winner’s medal.

5. Lee Sharpe

Lee Sharpe
Lee Sharpe was an early star of the Premier League / Clive Brunskill/GettyImages

Of all the brilliant young players that Man Utd brought through in the Alex Ferguson era, it’s sometimes forgotten that Lee Sharpe was the first.

Sharpe was brilliant but, by his own admission, but not the most professional. He suffered with injuries and had to fight for his place with Ryan Giggs, so he didn’t really shine as much as he was tipped to.

When he did leave, he joined Leeds and became their joint record signing in 1996. Again, he suffered with injuries and failed to deliver on the promise.

6. Eric Cantona

Eric Cantona
Leeds gave Eric Cantona his first chance in England / Stephen Munday/GettyImages

If you had to name one player who changed the course of Premier League history, most would likely say Eric Cantona.

Cantona came to England to escape his reputation as a troublemaker in France and he eventually found a home at Leeds United - albeit after a bizarre indoor trial at Sheffield Wednesday. It was a good decision because he won the First Division in 1992.

Weirdly, he struggled to hold down a regular place at Leeds and Alex Ferguson saw the opportunity to pounce.

Leeds initially made contact to find out if Denis Irwin was for sale. The answer was a short and sharp ‘no’, but Ferguson needed a striker.

Bids for David Hirst, Matt Le Tissier and Brian Deane had all been turned down and the Man Utd boss took the opportunity to enquire about Cantona. The rest, as they say, is history.

For the record, that history was four Premier League titles and two FA Cups, as well as being a crucial factor in establishing Man Utd as the dominant force in English football for the next two decades.

The strangest thing of all was that Leeds thought they were taking Man Utd to the cleaners when they did the £1.2m deal.