Jonathan Woodgate: Looking for a happy end to career filled with regrets

The injury-ravaged defender is painfully honest but content after coming home to Boro

Ten years ago, Jonathan Woodgate was sat in the Cleveland Tontine restaurant with his friend. Close by was Steve Gibson, the chairman of Middlesbrough Football Club. Woodgate, then 22 and a bit more impetuous, scribbled down his name, number and "Is there any chance of signing me?" on a napkin. He put it on Gibson's table.

No one quite knows for certain where the note ended up – for the sake of this tale, let us imagine not in a bin – but last week, as Woodgate prepared to go out for a run, his phone rang with an unknown number.

"I didn't know who it was so I nearly didn't answer it," he revealed. "He just said, 'It's me, Steve Gibson, do you want to come and play for Middlesbrough again?'

"Maybe he had just found the serviette and that is why he rang!

"I had to think about it because it wasn't an easy decision to make and he understood where I was coming from. I rang him back later and said 'Let's meet up.' I could have stayed in the Premier League but coming back to Boro was a big pull for me. I want to try and get them back in the Premier League. I will just be a normal player, one of the lads, grafting on the training pitch and trying to win games on a Saturday, and I will be back close to my family."

It is a good story with a happy ending, told amid much laughter as Woodgate was unveiled yesterday at the club's Hurworth training ground after signing a three-year contract. And it is time there was one of those in his career.

The 32-year-old was coveted by Manchester United, Middlesbrough and Leeds when he was a youngster at Marton FC. He chose Leeds and looked the kind of central defender England had needed for years. He moved to Newcastle for £9m when the Elland Road dream was unravelling but from there injury took hold. It has ravaged his career, at Real Madrid, Spurs and for his country, and, amid the good mood and genuine humour, is a well of regret.

"The club where there is the biggest 'what if' is obviously Real Madrid but I cannot dwell on that and I have to put that out of my mind," he added. "I do not even like talking about Real Madrid and all that s***. It does my head in. I was there years ago. I was at Stoke last season. In my mind, let's just forget about all that. I get embarrassed about it to be honest."

He was sent off on his debut at the Santiago Bernabeu after scoring an own goal. It was a highlight.

"To be honest, that was a good point in my career because I was fit again and the fans even clapped me off," he said. "Ronaldo came up to me after the game and said, 'No, don't worry about it. You are playing,' and I said, 'Yeah, you're right.' We won that game 4-1. It might have been different if we had got beaten. What was worse than that [game] was being injured, the recurrence of injuries was the real killer. There are a lot of what-ifs, so I don't really look back on my career because of that."

Turning out for Stoke last year reminded everyone he can still play. "21 games," he spits out quickly. "And I was available for 41."

It makes this, effectively, his third spell at Middlesbrough (on loan from Madrid, and then signed permanently from them) less of a gamble. Tony Mowbray, the Middlesbrough manager, spoke of another five years left in his career.

Woodgate seems hungry because, as he says: "I've had good moves but not a great career. It might be an honest thing to say but it's right though, isn't it? What have I won? Not much."

But you did win the Carling Cup with Tottenham.

"Yeah, I did."

And you scored the winning goal.

"Yeah, but it went in off my nose."

Woody: Career stats

Born 22 January, 1980, Nunthorpe

1998-2003 Leeds United; 142 games, five goals

2003-04 Newcastle United; 37 games, no goals

2004-06 Real Madrid; 14 games, one goal

2006-08 Middlesbrough; 52 games, no goals

2008-11 Tottenham Hotspur; 65 games, three goals

2011-12 Stoke City; 21 games, no goals

England Eight caps, no goals (debut v Bulgaria (a), June 1999)

Honours 2008 League Cup (scored in final for Spurs v Chelsea)

Suggested Topics
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs People

HR Analyst - Banking - Bristol - £350-£400

£350 - £400 per day: Orgtel: HR Analyst - Banking - Bristol - £350 - £400 per ...

HR Manager - HR Generalist / Sole in HR

£30000 - £35000 per annum + benefits: Ashdown Group: HR Manager - HR Generalis...

Business Analyst - Banking - London - £350-£400

£350 - £400 per day: Orgtel: Business Analyst - Banking - People Change - Lond...

HR Manager - Milton Keynes - £50,000 + package

£48000 - £50000 per annum + car allowance + benefits: Ashdown Group: HR Shared...

Day In a Page

Middle East crisis: We know all too much about the cruelty of Isis – but all too little about who they are

We know all too much about the cruelty of Isis – but all too little about who they are

Now Obama has seen the next US reporter to be threatened with beheading, will he blink, asks Robert Fisk
Neanderthals lived alongside humans for centuries, latest study shows

Final resting place of our Neanderthal neighbours revealed

Bones dated to 40,000 years ago show species may have died out in Belgium species co-existed
Scottish independence: The new Scots who hold fate of the UK in their hands

The new Scots who hold fate of the UK in their hands

Scotland’s immigrants are as passionate about the future of their adopted nation as anyone else
Britain's ugliest buildings: Which monstrosities should be nominated for the Dead Prize?

Blight club: Britain's ugliest buildings

Following the architect Cameron Sinclair's introduction of the Dead Prize, an award for ugly buildings, John Rentoul reflects on some of the biggest blots on the UK landscape
eBay's enduring appeal: Online auction site is still the UK's most popular e-commerce retailer

eBay's enduring appeal

The online auction site is still the UK's most popular e-commerce site
Culture Minister Ed Vaizey: ‘lack of ethnic minority and black faces on TV is weird’

'Lack of ethnic minority and black faces on TV is weird'

Culture Minister Ed Vaizey calls for immediate action to address the problem
Artist Olafur Eliasson's latest large-scale works are inspired by the paintings of JMW Turner

Magic circles: Artist Olafur Eliasson

Eliasson's works will go alongside a new exhibition of JMW Turner at Tate Britain. He tells Jay Merrick why the paintings of his hero are ripe for reinvention
Josephine Dickinson: 'A cochlear implant helped me to discover a new world of sound'

Josephine Dickinson: 'How I discovered a new world of sound'

After going deaf as a child, musician and poet Josephine Dickinson made do with a hearing aid for five decades. Then she had a cochlear implant - and everything changed
Greggs Google fail: Was the bakery's response to its logo mishap a stroke of marketing genius?

Greggs gives lesson in crisis management

After a mishap with their logo, high street staple Greggs went viral this week. But, as Simon Usborne discovers, their social media response was anything but half baked
Matthew McConaughey has been singing the praises of bumbags (shame he doesn't know how to wear one)

Matthew McConaughey sings the praises of bumbags

Shame he doesn't know how to wear one. Harriet Walker explains the dos and don'ts of fanny packs
7 best quadcopters and drones

Flying fun: 7 best quadcopters and drones

From state of the art devices with stabilised cameras to mini gadgets that can soar around the home, we take some flying objects for a spin
Joey Barton: ‘I’ve been guilty of getting a bit irate’

Joey Barton: ‘I’ve been guilty of getting a bit irate’

The midfielder returned to the Premier League after two years last weekend. The controversial character had much to discuss after his first game back
Andy Murray: I quit while I’m ahead too often

Andy Murray: I quit while I’m ahead too often

British No 1 knows his consistency as well as his fitness needs working on as he prepares for the US Open after a ‘very, very up and down’ year
Ferguson: In the heartlands of America, a descent into madness

A descent into madness in America's heartlands

David Usborne arrived in Ferguson, Missouri to be greeted by a scene more redolent of Gaza and Afghanistan
BBC’s filming of raid at Sir Cliff’s home ‘may be result of corruption’

BBC faces corruption allegation over its Sir Cliff police raid coverage

Reporter’s relationship with police under scrutiny as DG is summoned by MPs to explain extensive live broadcast of swoop on singer’s home