Cameron Stewart tells Phil Hay Brian McDermott’s track record with wingers and the chance to play regularly are why he chose Leeds United.
Wingers: no longer a rare breed at Leeds United. Cameron Stewart and Jimmy Kebe descended like buses on Elland Road this week but Brian McDermott is happy to take them in twos, needing more than a single solution.
Stewart and Kebe. Suddenly Leeds are free of the one-dimensional limits caused by a team with no width and no pace. “I’m sure a lot of full-backs in the Championship won’t be looking forward to seeing our names on the teamsheet,” Stewart said after signing on yesterday. “Hopefully we can bring something different, something the team haven’t had yet.”
That in essence is why McDermott took Stewart from Hull City and was due to complete Kebe’s loan from Crystal Palace this morning. They represent so much that Leeds have lacked before and after their turbulent Christmas; quick, attacking assets who might shake the club out of a short-term malaise.
A malaise is what United are technically embroiled in the prospect of two quick signings and a meaningful move for Brighton’s Ashley Barnes has given the club a flush of happiness.
Last Saturday’s defeat at Rochdale – gone but not entirely forgotten – seems longer ago now than it did before Stewart completed his transfer. “We’ve got a different outlook now,” McDermott said. “A different way.”
Stewart’s contract is slightly complicated, a 93-day emergency loan which Leeds were forced to accept due to Football League rules preventing him from playing for a third league club this season on either a permanent basis or a standard loan.
The 22-year-old will miss the tail end of the Championship term and potentially the play-offs but Leeds made a firm commitment to him by finalising a three-year contract yesterday morning. Stewart will take it up in the summer when his deal at Hull expires.
He cut an enthusiastic figure at Thorp Arch, free not only of a club in Hull who were happy to see him go but also able to look beyond the next few months.
His last three moves – to Burnley, Blackburn Rovers and Charlton Athletic – have been loans with no immediate guarantee of future opportunities. “I can settle myself again,” he said. “I’ve been living out of my car and suitcase.
“To have a new club to settle at, a team who are progressing and moving up, means it’s a big time in my career. I’m only 22. But one of the deciding factors in coming to Leeds was that there aren’t many wide players at the club.
“I’ve seen that the gaffer’s had wingers in the past at Reading and he brought the best out of them. I hope he’ll bring the best out of me. He wanted me to come here and give the boys a bit of a spark.
“When you’re in the last six months of your contract and you know you’re not going to get a new deal, it’s kind of time to move on and start a new chapter. That’s here at Leeds for me.”
Stewart took much the same attitude when, as a teenager on the books of Manchester United, he began looking for chances elsewhere. Hull took him temporarily during the 2010-11 season and then signed him permanently, ending his time at Old Trafford before he’d had the chance to make a senior debut.
“I grew up in Manchester and when I played locally there were a lot of scouts around,” he said. “They were Manchester United or Manchester City scouts mostly and I played for Manchester United for a fair few years.
“Some people think Manchester United is the be-all and end-all but as I young boy I made the decision to go out on loan. I made a decision about whether to stay at Manchester United or to make a career for myself.
“I left at 19 and to be honest I was happy doing that. They’re such a big club and some people say you should try out there until you get a chance but I felt like it was the time for me to go.”
In the end, Hull were no different. Stewart played 32 times in his first full year as a City player but was never in vogue under Steve Bruce, a manager who looks increasingly established at the KC Stadium.
A bad knee injury did not help either. His future was always likely to be settled this month with his contract up in the summer and City clear in stating that an extension would not be offered to him.
Charlton took Stewart on loan for the first half of this season and he played in Leeds’ 4-2 win at The Valley in November, an astonishing match which survived torrential rain and an appalling pitch. Ross McCormack scored four goals, each of them brilliantly taken, but even he could not match the quality of Stewart’s volley which threatened to break the back of Leeds’ net at the end of the first half.
“It wasn’t the best of pitches and it wasn’t the prettiest of games either,” Stewart said. “We got a bit of a thumping and Ross scored four. It was a disappointing defeat at the time but that was probably the best goal I’ve ever scored.
“I think Charlton would have been interested in keeping me and I have to say a big thank you to (manager) Chris Powell and the boys there.
“They gave me a chance to go out and play and show what I could do again. But Leeds are a head-turner.
“With Hull, It wasn’t really difficult to move on. I enjoyed my time when I first went there but things didn’t really come off for me when Steve Bruce came in. I found it hard.
“There was a change of manager, a change of system, a change of players. A lot of factors kick in. But that era’s gone and I’m looking forward to a new one.”
His United debut could come immediately at Sheffield Wednesday tomorrow. Kebe is also in line to start too, dependent only on the completion of formalities this morning. Even if Stewart can’t participate in the play-offs, he has the chance to help Leeds qualify. The club are eighth in the Championship, one point beneath sixth, and refreshed by 24 healthy hours.
“I know the loan’s a maximum of 93 days so I’ll miss a few games at the end of the season,” he said.
“But at the moment I’ll just be happy to play when I’m available and when I’m selected. Leeds were the club I really fancied.”