NOT MANY players can say that Sir Alex Ferguson tried to sign them TWICE – but this now unrecognisable former winger is in the elite band.
The ex-Northern Ireland international had many comparing him to Manchester United legend George Best due to his exploits with the club’s famed Class of ‘92 FA Youth Cup-winning side.
Unfortunately for the now 48-year-old, he also had David Beckham vying for the same position.
The man we are talking about is of course Keith Gillespie, who did go on to forge an impressive career for himself in the Premier League.
The flanker left his hometown of Larne to sign for Fergie’s United upon leaving school in the summer of 1991.
The following year he famously starred alongside the likes of Beckham, Gary and Phil Neville, Ryan Giggs and Paul Scholes as the club’s youngsters won the FA Youth Cup.
Gillespie was rewarded with a first-team debut against Bury in the FA Cup third round in January 1993 – and he celebrated that feat with a goal in the 2-0 win.
A short stint on loan at Wigan followed, where he scored four goals in eight matches, before he returned to Old Trafford as a fully-fledged member of the first-team squad.
However, he found match action difficult to come by amid the form of Andrei Kanchelkis down the right.
Gillespie did make a total of 14 appearances for the Red Devils, including nine in the Premier League, but he soon found himself involved in one of the most explosive transfer deals of the 1990s.
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He was sold to Newcastle in January 1995 as a £1million makeweight as Andy Cole headed to United in the opposition direction for a then British record £7m fee.
However, just months later Ferguson was trying to sign him back after flogging Kanchelskis to Everton.
But by that point he was already becoming a firm part of Kevin Keegan’s iconic Entertainers on Tyneside but they narrowly missed out to United in the title race the following season.
Gillespie enjoyed three years at St. James’ Park and experienced playing in the Champions League as he made 113 top-flight appearances and scored 11 times before he transferred to Blackburn.
Despite a fall-out with Graeme Souness which led to another loan stint at Wigan, he eventually helped Rovers to win promotion back to the Premier League and then lifted the League Cup with them in 2002.
Gillespie joined Leicester City in 2003 but went on to sign for Sheffield United two years later and enjoyed another promotion success with the Blades.
But the ace was suffering gambling problems off the pitch, which he talks in great detail about in his autobiography, How Not To Be A Football Millionaire.
Gillespie’s career began to slide following a loan to Charlton Athletic as he headed to Bradford on a short-term deal in March 2009.
He failed to win a new contract and instead left England for a spell in Ireland with Glentoran but did make a brief comeback to these shores with Darlington in the National League in October 2010.
Gillespie only made three appearances and then signed for League of Ireland First Division side Longford Town in March 2011.
He retired in September 2013 but returned to the pitch in 2020 at the age of 45 to play for newly-formed Mid-Ulster Football League side FC Mindwell, a club created to raise awareness of mental health issues.
He finished his career having played over 500 matches and with 86 caps for Northern Ireland.