What happened to the two starlets Chelsea poached from Leeds in 2006

Nostalgia

In 2006, Chelsea landed themselves in hot water after signing youngsters Tom Taiwo and Michael Woods from Leeds United‘s academy.

Leeds chairman and former Chelsea owner Ken Bates accused the Blues of making illegal approaches to Taiwo and Woods, as well as Danny Rose, who rejected the move. Not exactly known for a tactful approach to such situations, Bates exacerbated matters by calling Roman Abramovich and co “a bunch of shysters from Siberia”.

Having labelled an initial offer of £200,000 as “insulting”, Bates called for Chelsea to face a points deduction, transfer ban or suspension from European competitions, but he eventually accepted £5million compensation in an out-of-court settlement.

Rose would go on to become an established Premier League name after leaving Leeds the following year – and having his loyalty questioned by Bates in the process – to join Tottenham. With 29 caps for England and experience of playing in a World Cup and Champions League final, it’s fair to say he probably made the right decision.

But what of Taiwo and Woods? We’ve taken a look back at their respective careers to see how they fared after swapping West Yorkshire for West London.

Tom Taiwo

Taiwo’s Chelsea career got off the to worst possible start when he broke his legs two days before he was due to make his debut for Chelsea’s youth team.

The midfielder also struggled with accusations directed towards his parents that they had accepted backhanders to influence their son’s decision to leave Leeds.

“They are good, honest people so it was upsetting that someone could write bad things about them when they had done nothing wrong,” Taiwo later told the Daily Record in 2012.

“Things like they’d been bought a car. That they’d sold their son for a new kitchen. Basically accusing them of taking backhanders. My dad is a straight, honest guy. It was disappointing. They just wanted me to make the best decision for me.”

Ultimately, Taiwo never made the step up to the first team at Stamford Bridge and a loan spell at Port Vale offered little encouragement when the League Two club opted against extending the then-18-year-old’s month stay.

After going on trial with Seattle Sounders in March 2009, Taiwo opted to remain in England and join Carlisle United on loan ahead of the 2009-10 season, impressing enough to see the deal made permanent.

“At 16 I was rated as a very good prospect; now I’m at Carlisle,” he told the Daily Mail in 2011 while criticising the academy system in England. “You see boys who weren’t rated at 16 who at 23 are playing for England.

“Chris Smalling, he was playing non-league. Now he’s a top player with Manchester United and England. It makes a mockery of the academy system, shows it is not the be-all and end-all. Boys like myself have been right through the system and now I’m nowhere near his standard. That’s the worry.”

Taiwo was part of the Carlisle side that won the Football League Trophy at Wembley in 2011 but left on acrimonious terms the following year, scuppering a potential move to Bradford City which left him instead moving further north to join Hibernian.

After two years with Hibs he dropped down to the Scottish Championship to join Falkirk, where he spent four seasons and helped the club reach the Scottish Cup final.

A return to the Scottish Premiership with Hamilton was short-lived as he was released after a single season and subsequently retired in 2019, aged 29, after struggling with injury issues for the previous three campaigns.

“Other players at Leeds and Chelsea were better than me,” Taiwo conceded in the interview with the Daily Mail.

“I’m a homely person. If I could have come home to my parents at night I wouldn’t have worried so much. I had a broken leg and others were getting on. You worry. Being away from home isn’t a bad thing, you grow up fast, but it can be daunting.”

He added: “Other boys can read far too much into things. I was a worrier. My mindset’s changed now. But when you go to a big club and see the first team, it hits you that that is what you’re aspiring to be. You almost want to be in it before you’re ready.

“Then at 17-18 there’s a shift, it becomes a profession instead of just being enjoyable. Barcelona’s players always look like they’re enjoying themselves, their players have no fear. But there’s a lot of fear in young players.”

Michael Woods

Speaking to the Harrogate Advertiser in 2013, Woods defended his decision to join Chelsea, saying: “There was a time when we were all dragged in [at Leeds] and told that the academy was going to be scrapped, there was going to be no youth set-up and they were struggling to pay wages,” he said.

“I don’t think people realise how bad it was. I didn’t have a choice but to go.”

And he told the BBC in 2015: “We had a strong side that had grown up together. Danny Rose, Fabian Delph, Tom Taiwo and Jonny Howson. A lot of the bigger Premier League clubs were sniffing to take a few of us, just trying to take advantage of the financial situation Leeds were in.

“A lot of eyebrows were raised as if to say, ‘Are you going to go down there and get a chance?’ I thought 10 years down the line I’m going to think ‘What if I didn’t go.’

“In any job everyone wants to try and be the best you can be. When you are that age and you hear Mourinho is interested in you…”

Woods fared slightly better than Taiwo, appearing twice for Chelsea’s first team in the 2006-07 FA Cup. In replacing Frank Lampard in a 6-1 victory against Macclesfield Town at the age of 16 years 275 days, the midfielder became the fourth youngest player to ever appear for the Blues.

The former England youth international was given another cameo in the following round’s 3-0 victory over Nottingham Forest but only got as far as an unused substitute on one occasion for a Premier League fixture.

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READ: Revisiting The Guardian’s ’20 future England stars’ list of 2008

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But, like Taiwo, injuries stunted his progress. Two years into his stay at Stamford Bridge, Woods was beginning to feel “comfortable” training with the likes of Lampard and Michael Essien, only to be told he may never play football again after suffering a serious knee injury in a reserve fixture. Ten minutes into his comeback appearance, he then dislocated his ankle.

“I was flying for the first two years,” he told the BBC. “I was enjoying my football and felt confident in my abilities. Then the injuries struck. I haven’t got a bad word to say about Chelsea and the academy, the way they treated my injury. They couldn’t do any more.”

Upon returning to fitness, he was sent on loan to Notts County but failed to break into their League One side, appearing just twice in the FA Cup.

After being released by Chelsea at the end of the 2010-11 season, it took Woods until February 2012 to find a new club, joining Yeovil Town on non-contract terms after unsuccessful trials with Aberdeen and Walsall.

His first goal in senior football arrived against Rochdale, helping him force his way into Yeovil’s starting XI, but a red card on just his fifth appearance saw him miss the end of the season through suspension and he subsequently left the club at the campaign’s end.

Another non-contract agreement saw him move to Doncaster Rovers in October 2012, but he was released two months later after a solitary outing and dropped into non-league by joining Conference North side Harrogate Town.

To his credit, Woods’ performances saw him earn a move back into the Football League with Hartlepool in 2014. The North-East club provided the longest spell of his career at a single club since his Chelsea days as he appeared over 150 times across four years, although he couldn’t prevent them suffering relegation to the National League in 2017.

Now 29, after rejoining Harrogate Town for a brief spell, he is now in the midst of a two-year deal at Dover Athletic.


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