Sol Bamba flew under the radar during the January transfer window but it is clear that Leeds United’s captain had plenty to ponder and much on his plate. Bamba says he was never close to leaving or tempted to exit Elland Road but the option of selling him was patently there.
Attention last month concentrated on younger, more saleable members of United’s squad but Bamba revealed yesterday that interest in him came from the Premier League and abroad. He was told at the start of the window that Leeds would not listen to bids and told that head coach Steve Evans wanted to tie him to a new contract but the deadline brought an end to a dizzying period.
The 31-year-old has been a Leeds player for less than 12 months and part of their team as a permanent signing since the middle of July. He bought a house locally and his children have settled into a nearby school so a quick upheaval was not in the original plan.
The centre-back believes he has a “big role to play” at Leeds but in amongst the family issues which forced him to miss a 1-1 draw at Brentford last week and time as a substitute, he had more to consider than many people realised. The centre-back did not deny that others around him, including family members, suggested he should leave.
“I’ve been here before,” Bamba said. “It’s always nice to have clubs after you but from day one the manager and chairman told me I wasn’t going to go anywhere. I knew then that it would be difficult to go. It’s passed, I have to move on and get on with it.
“It’s a mixed feeling because at some point, when I was talking with my family, maybe they were saying it’s maybe best for me to move but I’m settled here, I’m happy and I’ve just bought a house. I didn’t want to go too far. If you’re looking football-wise then playing for a Premier League club or somewhere abroad would have been nice but I’ve got a big role to play here. My agent’s been in contact with a few clubs and the club’s been in touch with some other clubs as well but they were clear straight away that I wasn’t going anywhere so it never really crossed my mind. I wasn’t going to behave badly to make sure I left left or anything like that. I’m here and I move on.
“When there were rumours that I was going the lads were saying to me that it was going to be difficult for them. That touched me a bit. It must mean I’m doing a good job (as captain). I try to smile and keep everyone together because no-one is bigger than the club. I’ve said that time and time again.”
There were reasons why Bamba’s resolve to stay put might have been tested. He has been out of United’s team, with the exception of the odd appearance, since fracturing a toe in November. Leeds are further away from the Championship play-offs than they wanted to be, even in a season which began with Uwe Rosler aiming for a top-10 finish, and the transfer window saw only two additions to the squad, on top of the extension of Liam Bridcutt’s loan.
Bamba admitted that he would have like to have seen more business, in line with other Championship clubs, but said the clamour for a new striker was misguided, despite the news that Chris Wood will be missing for another fortnight with a hamstring injury.
“With the striker situation, I don’t think we need anyone,” he said. “(Souleymane) Doukara’s doing very well. Wood’s injured but when he comes back it will give us a big lift and we’ve got Mirco (Antenucci).
“It depends how we want to play but most of the time we play with one up front. If you add another striker that’s a bit more trouble in the dressing room because when they don’t play, you know how players are. I don’t think we need another striker. We’re short in different areas but not with a striker.
“When you see the other teams, the players they bring in, they’re getting stronger and stronger. When you look at ourselves, we haven’t done much. We’ve brought in two very good players but I think the manager wanted to add one or two more.
“If you look at other Championship sides, they’ve got big squads. We don’t. Ours compared to them, we don’t have the same. We could have added one or two more to make the squad stronger. But overall I think we’re okay to finish the season.”
Leeds play Forest at Elland Road tomorrow, a meeting between two clubs with ample history between them but prospects of finishing mid-table this year. Forest are unbeaten in 12 league games but sit 11th in the Championship. Leeds are 12 points short of sixth place and no longer talking about promotion, even with 17 games to go.
Bamba said: “We’re 12 points away. There’s a lot of games to play but I’m not going to say we’re going to reach the play-offs or get promotion. There’s games to play, we’re professional and we’ve got a job to do – which is winning as many games as possible.”
In that period Bamba’s priority is to re-establish himself in Evans’ starting line-up. The defender says Evans wants to extend his contract, which runs initially to 2017 and has a 12-month option, but the United boss is favouring Liam Cooper and Giuseppe Bellusci in the centre of defence. Bamba played in the absence of an injured Cooper at Bolton Wanderers last weekend but was shaky and left the field with cramp towards the end.
“The more you play, the better you feel. You perform better,” Bamba said. “When you have an injury it doesn’t make it easy. It takes time and it takes games. I will get back to my best form.
“You have to let your football do the talking so I’d never go into the manager’s office and ask for this or that. I don’t think I should play in front of anyone. That’s the manager’s decision. If I don’t play I wait for my chance. Competition for places is very good. The manager said to me that he wanted to sign a new deal. That’s what he said to me when all this (the transfer speculation) was going on. It’s good to hear but we’re nowhere near at the minute because I haven’t talked to the owner about it. It was just a suggestion but I’d like to move forward with that.”