Zi­zou, Ron­aldo, Figo – I marked them all

By Jamie Holt IR­ISH STAR MIXED IT WITH WORLD BEST

The Football League Paper - - BIG INTERVIEW -

ONE MINUTE he was mix­ing it with Real Madrid’s Galac­ti­cos the next he was os­tracised by Le­vante’s pres­i­dent and al­most found him­self on the scrapheap. Yes, Bournemouth new boy Ian Harte has seen it all since his Leeds hey­day.

His nine years at El­land Road were lively enough, but amid the fi­nan­cial chaos that en­gulfed the club in 2004 Harte made his es­cape to Spain, al­though he main­tains he was forced out by the club he helped reach the Cham­pi­ons League semi-fi­nal just three years ear­lier.

It wasn’t a bad end re­sult for the Repub­lic of Ire­land in­ter­na­tional left­back, though. He owned a hol­i­day villa in Mar­bella and watched with ad­mi­ra­tion the great El Cla­sico con­tests be­tween Madrid and Barcelona.

“I al­ways watched Span­ish football and my agent (Robert Se­gal) was in Spain at the time,” said Harte, whose dis­tinc­tive Ir­ish twang makes a mock­ery of national boss Gio­vanni Tra­p­at­toni’s as­sump­tion he wasn’t from the Emer­ald Isle.

“Robert said ‘would you be in­ter­ested in play­ing in Spain?’ We ended up fly­ing from Malaga to Va­len­cia, and we had a look around the Le­vante ground and I made my mind up straight away.

“I then went back to Leeds to train, and was told by man­ager Kevin Black­well I was go­ing to be third-choice left-back. They were try­ing to get ev­ery­one off the wage bill.

It was a gloomy end to Harte’s spell in York­shire. Over­spend­ing dur­ing the Peter Rids­dale era over­shad­owed their sen­sa­tional run to the last four in Europe where they were even­tu­ally beaten by Va­len­cia.

Back then Leeds, un­der the stew­ard­ship of David O’Leary, were also gen­uine ti­tle con­tenders and Harte was steadily build­ing his rep­u­ta­tion as one of the con­ti­nent’s most danger­ous full­backs – es­pe­cially from the set-piece.

Amaz­ing

His free-kick against De­portivo La Coruna in the quar­ter-fi­nal of the Cham­pi­ons League in 2001 is still revered in the Re­vie Stand.

But Harte watched on from the east coast of Spain as Leeds fell dra­mat­i­cally from grace af­ter their rel­e­ga­tion to the Cham­pi­onship in 2004.

While he was plat­ing for Le­vante and mark­ing Luis Figo, keep­ing tabs on Zine­dine Zi­dane and try­ing to stop Brazil’s Ron­aldo, his for­mer club were trav­el­ling to Lu­ton in League One.

“I was in Spain when they were in League One and there were still about 30,000 fans go­ing ev­ery week – it goes to show the sup­port Leeds have,” added Harte, who this sum­mer signed for Cham­pi­onship new­com­ers Bournemouth on a one-year deal.

“There were some amaz­ing times at Leeds.We had spe­cial nights in Europe and push­ing on in the league as well.

“I al­ways get a de­cent re­cep­tion when I go back, we had a fan­tas­tic team then and it’s just a shame the club went into fi­nan­cial dif­fi­cul­ties and ev­ery­body moved on.

“It’s a mas­sive club. It’s im­por­tant they get back into the Pre­mier League as soon as pos­si­ble be­cause they have the sta­dium and the train­ing fa­cil­i­ties. It’s all built for the Pre­mier League.”

Of his time at Le­vante, he says:“It was play­ing against the likes of Real Madrid and the Galac­ti­cos – Figo, Raul, Roberto Car­los, Zi­zou.

“I played against all of them. When they had the Ron­aldo, he was at the peak of his form so it was a great ex­pe­ri­ence for me.”

But, as at Leeds, things turned sour for Harte. In his third and fi­nal sea­son with Le­vante he re­quired surgery on a trou­ble­some cyst on his knee and pres­i­dent Pe­dro Vil­lar­roel re­fused to pay for the surgery..

In the end, hav­ing re­cruited the same so­lic­i­tor that aided Car­los Tevez’ s move from West Ham to Manch­ester United, Harte re­ceived the treat­ment but he knew his time was up.

Awkward

“It wasn’t even a big op­er­a­tion but the club just ended up be­ing awkward,” he said. “The pres­i­dent said I would never kick a ball again, but ob­vi­ously he was proved wrong wasn’t he?”

A year un­der Roy Keane at Sun­der­land ended with him be­ing shipped out of the Sta­dium of Light and trav­el­ling the coun­try to prove his worth on trial.

Chances at Black­pool, Wolves and even St Mir­ren all came and went and he found him­self help­ing Carlisle avoid the League One drop in 2009.

“I helped the team stay in League One and the fol­low­ing sea­son I got 18 goals so thank­fully I then got a move to Read­ing.”

It was a switch Harte de­scribes as a ‘punt’ by then Read­ing boss Brian McDer­mott – iron­i­cally now in charge at El­land Road – but it couldn’t have turned out bet­ter.

He helped the Royals to pro­mo­tion from the Cham­pi­onship in 2012 and last sea­son was rolling back the years in the Pre­mier League.

“Never in a mil­lion years did I think I would be back play­ing in the top flight,” added Harte. “It’s moved on now a hell of a lot from when I was in it. But it was a great ex­pe­ri­ence for the club and the fans.

“We fought so hard in the Cham­pi­onship to get pro­moted. It was just dis­ap­point­ing that we let it come and go, and I’m sure we all learned a lot from that ex­pe­ri­ence.”

Ed­die Howe will be look­ing to tap into the 35-year-old’s ex­pe­ri­ence in a Bournemouth side full of youth­ful ex­u­ber­ance.

“I’m en­joy­ing it,” Harte said.“I knew be­fore I signed of the abil­ity they had with Ed­die.They had a great squad and ob­vi­ously the am­bi­tion to push for­ward.

“The club have fought hard to get into the Cham­pi­onship so it’s im­por­tant that we fight hard to stay there.

“A lot of peo­ple have writ­ten us off. Wi­gan came here the other day and prob­a­bly thought they’d turn us over, but it just goes to show the strength and depth within the squad that we won 1-0.”

DEADLY: Ian Harte scores from the spot for Leeds against Portsmouth in 2004

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