Old Trafford boom time for the boy from Tobago

United take pounds 12m gamble on striker with the potential to bring the world to his feet. By Glenn Moore
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The Independent Online
LIKE MOST West Indians they both played a bit of cricket; like most boys they both played a bit of footie; as they grew up Brian opted for the bat, Dwight the ball. In the Caribbean Brian's path appeared more likely to lead to fame and fortune but, with his pounds 12m move to Manchester United yesterday, Dwight Yorke can now eclipse his childhood friend, Brian Lara, as Trinidad and Tobago's most famous export. Playing for the world's biggest club, in the most global of sports, his prospects are infinite.

It is a long, long way from the dusty pitches where Yorke learnt his skills and, given his limited international experience, there is a question mark about the fee and his capacity to match it. There should not be any doubts, though, about his potential to justify it.

When he first came to Villa, having been spotted by Graham Taylor on a club tour, Tommy Docherty said: "If that lad makes a First Division footballer, my name's Mao-Tse-Tung."

His initial progress was indeed slow with just two goals in his first 20 games but, gradually, Ron Atkinson began to bring out the best from him and he became established. With Brian Little developing both his confidence and know-how, the goals began to flow as well.

While not a natural scorer like Marcelo Salas, Yorke scored 32 goals in 65 league matches in the last two seasons having previously averaged one goal in four (41 in 165). This while being variously paired with Savo Milosevic, Stan Collymore and Julian Joachim.

Ferguson turned down Salas because he did not think he fitted into United's pattern of play and Yorke, with his versatility and movement, may well be more suited. He certainly has the confidence and ability to produce the unexpected - as with his cheeky chipped penalties. Little, his former Villa manager, recalls an occasion when Yorke took money off all-comers by juggling the ball more than 100 times while standing in a barrel.

That said, he has no top-level international experience and has only played a handful of European games. Compared with the pounds 9m-rated Patrick Kluivert or the pounds 11m Salas, Yorke appears over-priced by at least pounds 3m and the size of the fee is indicative of United's desperation.

While the 26-year-old seemed destined for Old Trafford as soon as their interest became official, the move became urgent after United struggled to score against Arsenal, LKS Lodz and Leicester City. With Kluivert having rejected them and yesterday's Champions' League deadline imminent they had to move fast. Thus, instead of having a flutter at York, Ferguson took a gamble on Yorke.

It will be interesting to see how he fits into the United forward line. The early indications are that he will form a twin strike-force with Andy Cole. This would leave Teddy Sheringham even further down the pecking order, while it also creates a log-jam in midfield with Paul Scholes added to the scramble for a place. Tomorrow's match at West Ham may reveal more, though it is likely that Ferguson will rotate his team according to opposition, fitness and future demands. With the young players still coming through - the defenders Wes Brown and John Curtis were both at this week's England get-together - United look increasingly equipped to deal with the potential joint challenge of simultaneous competition in European and domestic leagues.

There are other trends implicit in this transfer. The signing was undoubtedly helped by Yorke professing a desire to move to Old Trafford - and his threat to see out his contract and deny Villa a fee if he did not. Player power, albeit expressed less crudely than by Pierre van Hooijdonk, in action once again.

It would also have been inconceivable even a decade ago that Manchester United's transfer record would have been broken to buy a Tobagan, but such is the game's global spread that world-class players are emerging from everywhere. That Villa were all but forced to sell him is another telling feature. Villa are historically one of the biggest clubs in Britain and, while they have not won the title for 17 years, they did win the European Cup in 1982 - rather more recently than United. They still attract impressive support and have an enviable stadium but, when United come calling, players want to go.

Doug Ellis, Villa's chairman, said yesterday that Yorke, who was the club's longest-serving player, could achieve what he wanted at Villa Park but the two clubs are now operating at different planes. Dave Woodhall, of the fanzine Heroes and Villains, echoed the thoughts of many yesterday when he said: "For all the talk Villa can't, or won't, join that top group of clubs in the Premiership. It illustrates a lack of ambition."

The dream-team strike force of Yorke, Milosevic and Collymore that started last season is now reduced to just Collymore, and few Villa fans retain faith in him. With United refusing to do a swap deal with Cole, Villa's own European prospects look bleak.

One wonders whether the decision to sell was affected by Villa's share listing. More cynically, some suggested the timing was to ensure season tickets sales were completed first. More probably it was dictated by the Champions' League deadline while the sale was inevitable once Yorke, with the power of Bosman behind him, outlined his intentions.

Like George Weah, Milan's Liberian international, Yorke may never play in a World Cup but he now has the stage to achieve the international recognition he has craved.

He once said of Lara: "Whatever I do I can't compete with him because his records are phenomenal, but seeing what he did has spurred me on to be a more recognisable figure." He may never score 501 in a match but, with United's merchandising arm behind him, he will soon be recognised in places where Lara has never been heard of.


pounds 21.4m Denilson (Sao Paulo - Real Betis)

pounds 18m Ronaldo (Barcelona - Internazionale)

pounds 15m Alan Shearer (Blackburn - Newcastle)

pounds 13m Gianluigi Lentini (Torino - AC Milan)

pounds 12.6m Dwight Yorke (Aston Villa - Man Utd)

pounds 12.5m Gianluca Vialli (Sampdoria - Juventus)

pounds 12.5m Ronaldo (PSV Eindhoven - Barcelona)

Rivaldo (Deportivo Coruna - Barcelona)

pounds 12m Juan Veron (Sampdoria - Parma)

Juninho (Middlesbrough - Atletico Madrid)

Christian Vieri (Juventus - Atletico Madrid)

Sonny Anderson (Monaco - Barcelona)

Marcelo Salas (River Plate - Lazio)


Villa's Yorke


27 July: United's first offer rejected by Villa, who label it "insulting"

12 August: United make their "final" offer. Villa reject it

Yesterday: Villa accept. "We lost the mental battle," says the Villa chairman Doug Ellis

pounds 16m

pounds 8m

pounds 10m

pounds 12.6m


1971: Born Tobago, 3 November.

1989: Graham Taylor buys him for pounds 120,000 from St Clair's after Aston Villa tour of West Indies.

Makes debut for Villa at Crystal Palace.

1990: Makes full debut against Manchester United but does not impress former Villa and United manager Tommy Docherty: "If that lad makes a First Division footballer, my name is Mao Tse-Tung."

1991: Scores first goal for Villa in 3-2 win over Derby. Signs new four- year deal at Villa Park for new manager Ron Atkinson.

1993: Ruptures thigh on pre- season tour of Japan and is ruled out for six months.

1994: Suffers Coca-Cola Cup disappointment when he is left out of the side for the 3-1 final win over Manchester United.

1995: Signs new two-year contract.

Knocked unconscious in collision with Coventry defender David Busst.

1996: Scores twice as Villa come from behind to draw 2-2 in Coca-Cola Cup semi-final first leg at Arsenal. Goalless draw in second leg sees Villa through.

Scores final goal in 3-0 Coca-Cola Cup Final victory over Leeds at Wembley.

1997: Becomes first Villa player to score 20 League goals in one season since Peter Withe in title- winning side of 1981.

Atletico Madrid bid of pounds 10m is rejected. Pledges to see out remaining two-and-a-half years of his contract at Villa.

Admits that, at 26, he needs to be "achieving things" saying: "I want to be on the same stage as Ronaldo in the Champions' League."

1998: Misses two opportunities at Atletico Madrid that cost Villa a Uefa Cup semi-final place.

Advised by best friend cricketer Brian Lara to stay at Villa. Manchester United first register their interest and manager John Gregory puts pounds 16m price tag on his head.

Yesterday: Villa accept pounds 12m offer from United.