After clinching the championship title thanks to a brilliant second half of the season run, Roy Keane wasted no time trying to strengthen the squad for the Premier League campaign that lay ahead.
He was casting his net wide, and on this day 14 years ago it was a former Real Madrid midfielder who was firmly in his sights.
Geremi, who was now at Chelsea after a loan spell at Middlesbrough, had been told he could leave Stamford Bridge on a free – four years after the Blues had paid £7m for him.
Keane was said to be keen on the Cameroonian due to his top-flight experience combined with his versatility – he could play right-back as well as centre midfield – and fitted in with Keane’s recruitment strategy of bringing in players with experience at the highest level, as well as promising younger talent.
Fitting into the latter bracket was Greg Halford, a right-back who’d signed from Reading a week earlier.
Halford had turned down a move from Colchester to the Stadium of Light six months earlier, preferring to join Premier League Reading instead.
Danny Simpson had been signed on loan to take the right-back spot for the remainder of the season, but with no option to make the Manchester United youngster’s move permanent, Keane had gone back in for Halford, who had been made available for transfer despite still being a relatively new arrival at the Madjeski Stadium.
This hadn’t deterred Keane or Chairman Niall Quinn, who’d paid £3m for Halford – earning the Royals a £500,000 profit after only three Premier League games.
Quinn told the Northern Echo:
Greg Halford stood out as one of the best players in the Championship last season for me. I was delighted to get Halford, which seems to have gone by a little unnoticed.
We felt we were getting close to signing him in January but the lure of the Premiership just took him away from us. He would be one of the three or four players I saw last season who I thought were definitely better than Championship standard.
He played extremely well against us at the Stadium of Light, even though Colchester lost. We had three players marking him at one stage even though he was meant to be playing full-back away from home.
Others in Keane’s sights were David Nugent of Preston, Bobby Zamora of West Ham and Manchester United’s Alan Smith.
Nugent had scored 15 championship goals for Preston the previous season, including the winner at the Stadium of Light in a Christmas fixture. But despite agreeing a £6m fee with Preston, Keane couldn’t convince Nugent his future lay on Wearside, and the striker signed for Harry Redknapp’s Portsmouth instead.
It was possibly the wrong choice for Nugent – Redknapp appeared to have a change of heart and tried to sell the striker to Derby in the same transfer window. In fact, it took Nugent 18 months to score his first goal for Portsmouth – ironically enough against Redknapp’s Spurs.
Geremi, of course, didn’t arrive at the Stadium of Light but he did end up in the north east, signing for Sam Allardyce’s Newcastle – alongside another one of Keane’s target’s Alan Smith. Zamora, meanwhile, suffered an injury in the August that ruled him out for a large chunk of the season at West Ham.
Halford turned out to be something of a disaster signing for Sunderland. In his nine games he managed to get sent off twice, and by January Keane told the press that he’d listen to offers for the player. However, there were no other clubs as daft as we were, so we ended up loaning him out for the rest of the season to Charlton, and the whole of the following season to Sheffield United.
At the beginning of the 2009-10 season, he joined newly-promoted Wolves on a permanent deal, after the clubs agreed an ‘undisclosed fee’ It’s fair to say it was significantly less than what we’d paid. After 17 games for Wolves he was off again – this time for another undisclosed fee to Portsmouth.