At Elland Road there is always one. Jonathan Howson, Max Gradel, Jermaine Beckford, Fabian Delph – marquee players who become the subject of overwhelming transfer talk.
On this occasion the target is Robert Snodgrass, to the surprise of no-one who appreciates his talent. A 24-year-old with much to offer and contract less than 12 months from expiry, he appeals to Premier League clubs who like to fish in the lower divisions. Few are more prolific in that respect than Norwich City.
The club who previously signed Howson and Bradley Johnson from Leeds have tried to bring their long-standing interest in Snodgrass to a head this week, submitting two bids and testing United’s nerve in the midst of due diligence and takeover fever at Elland Road.
Once again Leeds are faced with a decision over the future of a leading player who stands to become a free agent this time next year.
Leeds rejected Norwich’s first offer and have not agreed to City’s second bid, submitted on Thursday afternoon and said to be in excess of £2million.
Snodgrass’ absence from last night’s pre-season friendly at Farsley – United first warm-up match of the summer – begged the question of whether pressure from Carrow Road is taking its toll.
The Scotland international trained at Thorp Arch yesterday morning but was not part of the large squad taken to Throstle Nest. Warnock blamed his omission on a “tight hamstring” but also admitted he was keen to spare Snodgrass from inevitable attention on the back of Norwich’s renewed approach.
Snodgrass is due feature in next week’s tour of Devon and Cornwall and should travel south as planned tomorrow.
Speaking ahead of kick-off last night, Warnock said: “He’s got quite a tight hamstring and he could have come here but I thought all the hassle of speculation and people talking to him wouldn’t do him any good. Every question would have been about him. I said ‘I don’t mind if you don’t come’, he’ll come with us tomorrow.
“We’ve not had a bid that’s acceptable yet and Robert knows that. Everyone knows my feelings and nothing’s changed but in football you don’t know what’s around the corner. We just need to keep an open mind.”
Norwich’s interest in Snodgrass was originally shown by their previous manager, Paul Lambert, but Lambert’s defection to Aston Villa and Chris Hughton’s arrival at Carrow Road has not altered their opinion of him.
YEP columnist Dominic Matteo, who watched the friendly in his capacity as a radio pundit, is convinced by Snodgrass’ chances of thriving in the Premier league but less certain about the wisdom of a move to Norwich, a year after City were promoted from the Championship.
“There’s no doubt he’s good enough to play in the Premier League,” Matteo said. “I’m sure he’d get better again with better players around him. Good players usually do.
“But when you go to that level you want to stay there. Norwich might surprise us all again next season but I can see them struggling. It wouldn’t be great for him if he joined a club who come straight down. It’s a difficult situation for everyone - the club, the manager and the player.”
Snodgrass has been a fixture at Leeds for four years and the winger became the leading appearance-maker in their squad when Howson left to join Norwich midway through the recent January transfer window.
He played in all but three of the club’s Championship fixtures, despite undergoing surgery to remove his Appendix, and finished the term with 13 goals and 15 assists - having a direct hand in almost half of United’s league goals. Neil Warnock’s decision to name him as captain was understandable, likewise his insistence that United offer Snodgrass a new and realistic contract. That deal is still unsigned.
Suggestions of discontentment were evident in comments made by him at a supporters’ forum towards the end of the season. Snodgrass questioned the decision to sell Howson – his long-term predecessor as club captain – and asked what the deal said about United’s sporting ambition.
The offer of a new contract came with a promise from Warnock that he would sell Snodgrass to a Premier League team in either January or next summer if promotion from the Championship eluded Leeds for a third season running but Snodgrass said: “He’s already said he won’t be sticking around as manager for much longer. Who knows whether he’s got one or two more years left at Leeds?
“If it’s one year and I don’t sign the contract then I’ll be free next year. If I do sign I’d have another year left and be in the same situation I am now.
“So it’s alright for him to say he could get me a move but if he leaves then the people up above him in the football club aren’t going to worry about what he said. My future doesn’t lie in the hands of Neil Warnock, it’s in the hands of Robert Snodgrass.”
Those close to Snodgrass insist he is not itching to leave Elland Road or pushing for a way out.
At the end of last season he claimed he was willing to see out his existing deal with Leeds, saying: “I’d love to get into the Premier League. I would love it to happen with Leeds United.
“To lead Leeds United back into the Premier League would be a dream come true. The place would be absolutely buzzing.”
Throstle Nest had a buzz of its own yesterday, filled to capacity for Leeds’ first appearance of the summer and the start of a schedule of seven friendlies arranged by Warnock. A brace from trialist Andy Gray helped United to a 5-2 win.
Aside from Snodgrass, the squad at Farsley was missing injured pair Luciano Becchio and Adam Drury while Paul Connolly, Andy O’Brien and Paul Rachubka played no part, but Gray and fellow trialist Martin Cranie both appeared in Leeds’ starting line-up.
The pair are available on free transfers after leaving Barnsley and Coventry City respectively and they are likely to be given further opportunities by Warnock in the south west of England next week.
Cranie took his place alongside Jason Pearce in the centre of defence while Gray led the line with Ross McCormack up front.
The 34-year-old opened the scoring in the 31st minute with his third chance of the match, beating Farsley goalkeeper Tom Guildford with the aid of a deflection off Mark Jackson, and he struck again four minutes later by heading home from close range.
Robbie Rogers added a third goal almost instantly, meeting Michael Brown’s cross at the far post, and Warnock spared his hosts with 11 substitutions at half-time, seven of them young professionals.
Sam Byram’s headed own goal early in the second period failed to inspire a Farsley fightback and Billy Paynter and Sanchez Payne struck either side of Ryan Watson’s 20-yard consolation to seal an easy victory.
United (first half): Kenny, Lees, Cranie, Pearce, Pugh, Brown, Green, Rogers, McCormack, White, Gray.
United (second half): Cairns, Byram, Gimpel, Killock, Taylor, L Turner, Thompson, Payne, Nunez, Poleon, Paynter.