Recruitment continues in the background at Leeds United and Thomas Christiansen, the club’s head coach, expects new faces to join him on the plane headed for Munich later this week.
Leeds will fly to Germany on Friday before travelling south for a three-game tour of Austria and new signings are in the offing as the squad prepare to pack their bags. “We will announce some players,” said Christiansen confidently after Saturday’s pre-season friendly at Guiseley, without giving any more away.
Samuel Saiz, Huesca’s attacking midfielder, is due in Leeds today to begin completing a transfer from Spain which has required some patience and United are as close as they have been to agreeing terms for Lugano’s Macedonian winger, Ezgjan Alioski. Chievo striker Caleb Ekuban is another name on a list which the club and Victor Orta, their new director of football, are working through gradually.
Leeds have sealed five transfers to date, including those of Hadi Sacko and Pontus Jansson, and the expectation that their signings will reach double figures should prove to be accurate. Yet amid the incomings there is a question about a more familiar face, and one which has rarely been a comfortable fit at Elland Road.
Giuseppe Bellusci came back to Leeds last week after a year in Italy, confounding the belief that his career in England was over. He played in United’s first friendly on Wednesday, a behind closed doors meeting with Harrogate Town, and completed 45 minutes of Saturday’s 5-1 win over Guiseley but a deterioration in his already difficult relationship with the club’s support is likely to bring the matter to a head.
Bellusci, whose toxic image has not been softened by his time on loan at Empoli last season, was subjected to pockets of booing and abuse as he played his way through the first half at Nethermoor. When the interval came he signed autographs for a handful of younger supporters before walking to the tunnel with obscenities and shouts of “time to go” ringing in his ears. Midway through the second half he tweeted a message which read: “Fortunately in this world we have the children to set an example to the adults!”
Bellusci has 12 months left on his contract and United’s hierarchy are keen to move him on. The centre-back was given an additional week of holiday in Italy as pre-season began in the hope that a transfer to any of the clubs interested in him, among them Cagliari and Benevento, would materialise. As yet, neither he nor Leeds have found a way out.
A shortage of central defenders is encouraging Christiansen to use Bellusci and United’s head coach said he was keen in any case “to give them all the opportunity to show themselves.” He might do so again at North Ferriby United on Wednesday but Bellusci’s fate will become clear when Christiansen selects a squad for the trip to Austria. The Italian’s omission feels inevitable.
“We’ve taken already our decision (on Bellusci) but I don’t want to come out now saying what we will do,” Christiansen said. “You will see it through the week.
“I like to give them all the opportunity to show themselves. They have all had that. Now we will start taking decisions because players will arrive and some players have to leave.”
For Christiansen, the close scrutiny of Bellusci and his run-in with the crowd did not take the shine off a satisfactory afternoon at Nethermoor. Leeds were barely stretched by a Guiseley squad with seven trialists in it and Christiansen’s players reeled off five goals, including one scored by Stuart Dallas after all of 22 seconds.
Christiansen revealed afterwards that he had reminded his squad of United’s trip to Guiseley last summer when they trailed 3-0 before salvaging a 4-3 win. “In my meeting I showed them the score from last season and how they presented themselves in the first half,” Christiansen said. “I didn’t want to see that.
“In the first minute we scored the goal so the attitude was good and the performance was also a good one.”
Dallas struck with the first shot of the game, curling a shot into the top corner of the net after Eunan O’Kane hustled former Leeds youngster Alex Purver out of possession inside Guiseley’s half. Dallas scored again with an almost identical finish in the 22nd minute and a blistering effort from one of Guiseley’s trialists – rifled into Rob Green’s net – was quickly negated by a Marcus Antonsson tap-in on 33 minutes, created by Pablo Hernandez’s tricky feet on the byline.
Lee Erwin, the Scottish striker who found his goalscoring touch on loan at Oldham Athletic last season, came on in the second half and turned home a cut-back from Hadi Sacko shortly before the hour and the rebound from a Souleymane Doukara volley in the last minute. Second-best in midfield and hassled out wide, Guiseley – appearing for the first time since avoiding relegation from the National League by the skin of their teeth in April – offered no sustained threat. Both Green and Felix Wiedwald, United’s keeper in the second half, enjoyed quiet afternoons.
“From my point of view we had a very good first half where we had rhythm in the game and played well between the lines,” said Christiansen. “In the second half we didn’t play so fast as we should have. It was too slow in the passing but I’m happy with the performance. In general I’m satisfied.”
Christiansen, a former Barcelona forward, singled Erwin out for praise, saying: “The most important thing for a striker – I was a striker – is the goals. You get measured by the goals and they were a typical number nine’s goals where you have to be there in the right place at the right moment.” For Erwin there is hope. For Bellusci, the end of the road is nigh.
Leeds United (first half): Green, Ayling, Bellusci, Jansson, Denton, Dallas, O’Kane, Phillips, Hernandez, Roofe, Antonsson.
Leeds United (second half): Wiedwald, P McKay, Cooper (Shaughnessy 85), Diagouraga, Berardi, Vieira, Bridcutt, Gomes, Sacko, Doukara, Erwin.
Guiseley (firsthalf): Maxted, Taylor, Williams, Trialist, Palmer, Lawlor, Trialist, Hatfield, Thompson, Trialist, Trialist.
Guiseley (second half): East, Smith, Wells, Atkinson, Lowe, Green, Wesolowski, Rooney, Trialist, Trialist, Trialist. Subs: Gomersall, Hogg, Lazenby, Ibrahimi.