Leeds United deadline day: Whites strike out in one crucial area

Summer signing Marcus Antonsson. PIC: Bruce Rollinson
Summer signing Marcus Antonsson. PIC: Bruce Rollinson
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TEN IN, 10 out, before Eunan O’Kane made it 11 new recruits last night.

The arrival of a deadline day striker might just have made it a happy dozen.

But time will now tell if chairman Massimo Cellino has overseen a summer recruitment of quality as well as quantity and not just the latter.

There was a distinct feeling from the aftermath of last season’s final-day draw at Preston North End that United would be playing catch-up for the following campaign.

As the crowds departed Deepdale on Saturday, May 7, Whites captain Sol Bamba made the startling admission that United’s players had no idea when they were would be returning to pre-season training, or under whom as head coach.

“We are just going to go away on holiday and receive a text to let us know when we need to come back and who is going to be the manager,” revealed Bamba.

The club’s retained list was announced well before any confirmation of who would be the club’s head coach, with striker Mirco Antenucci and centre-back Scott Wootton confirmed as the two main names to be leaving Leeds on May 20.

Finally, 11 days later, United parted ways with head coach Steve Evans and assistant Paul Raynor on May 31.

The hunt for Massimo Cellino’s seventh head coach at Leeds was on – and just two days later the void was filled by Garry Monk whose first task was to implement his backroom staff.

Assistant Pep Clotet was brought in on June 13 and it was eight days later, on June 21, that United finally made their first summer signing when striker Marcus Antonsson joined on a three-year-deal from Kalmar for a fee rising to £2m.

It took another 10 days for Leeds to complete their second signing of the summer when centre-back Kyle Bartley joined on a season-long deal from Swansea City on July 1, the same day that centre-back Giuseppe Bellusci joined Empoli on a season-long loan. No qualms from supporters with that swap, or the departure of Tommaso Bianchi to Ascoli the day before.

The club then sealed their third signing four days later when winger Hadi Sacko also joined on a season-long loan from Sporting Lisbon on July 5, the day after Casper Sloth had left for AaB. Three signings quickly became four the very next day when England international goalkeeper Rob Green joined on a 12-month deal on July 6 after leaving QPR in May.

And a hectic week saw another development within the same 24 hours when Matt Grimes became the club’s fifth signing of the summer and the club’s third loan capture, joining Bartley on a season-long loan deal from Swansea.

United then took their splurge to five signings within one week when Kemar Roofe joined from Oxford United for £3m on July 7. But fans were then dealt a hammer blow the very next day when star midfielder Lewis Cook joined Bournemouth for an initial £6m, rising to £10m.

Lee Erwin left for Oldham Athletic on a season-long loan the next day, but the departure of homegrown Cook – the latest gem to leave United – left a bitter taste. After the departure of young keeper Eric Grimes to Cork City on July 29, United’s faithful then had to wait until August 2 to seal summer signing no 7, but the arrival of Pablo Hernandez on a six-month loan from Qatari side Al-Arabi caused arguably the most excitement yet.

It was seen as a bitter bow that Hernandez failed to receive his international clearance in time for the following Sunday’s season opener at QPR, but a tame 3-0 loss suggested United needed much more than the introduction of Hernandez.

Hernandez’s paperwork then went through in time for the midfielder to make his debut in the following Tuesday night’s EFL Cup clash at Fleetwood Town, which United scraped through on penalties.

And another debutant was in the team come Saturday’s hosting of Birmingham City with United announcing the capture of right-back Luke Ayling from Bristol City on August 11, the same day that Jordan Botaka joined Charlton Athletic on a season-long loan.

Ayling was probably United’s best player in the Blues clash but Leeds still crashed to a 2-1 home defeat. Eight summer signings were in the door, but Leeds had zero points from two games with two and half a weeks until the closure of the transfer window.

By now, United’s important pursuit of Sunderland defensive midfielder Liam Bridcutt was becoming the saga of the summer as the two clubs continually failed to reach an agreement. Finally, though, Bridcutt signed on the dotted line on August 16, becoming summer recruit no 9 and signing a two-year contract on the day that United hosted Fulham but too late to play as United sealed their first point of the season through a 1-1 draw.

Bridcutt then made his debut in the following Saturday’s clash at Sheffield Wednesday and his impact was immediate as United got up and running with a 2-0 victory.

By that point, the Whites had taken their summer recruitment drive to 10 having snapped up six-foot-five centre-back Pontus Jansson on a season-long loan from Torino two days before – on August 18 – the same day that young midfielder Alex Purver was sent to Guiseley on loan.

Jansson then made a solid debut in the 1-0 EFL Cup success at Luton Town the following Tuesday before being demoted to the bench for Saturday’s trip to Nottingham Forest.

After a tame 3-1 loss at the City Ground, he might find himself back in the team sooner than expected.

Such was the concern surrounding United’s defeat in Nottingham, there was a distinct feeling that Leeds needed strengthening in all areas approaching transfer deadline day. Monk was critical of his side’s profligacy in front of goal and Cellino was known to be chasing a striker.

The Whites were keen on signing 20-year-old West Ham United forward Ashley Fletcher but that move never looked likely after the youngster played the full 90 minutes of Sunday’s Premier Division clash at Manchester City. The former Manchester United attacker is evidently an immediate part of the London club’s plans.

Leeds were then thought to have enquired about taking Arsenal striker Yaya Sanogo on loan but whoever United were chasing, a signature proved evasive.

At the other end of the pitch, three cheaply conceded goals at the City Ground yelled a need for defensive reinforcements and the Whites were ready to listen to any interest in club captain Sol Bamba after the centre-back failed to make the match-day 18 at Forest.

But Monk had always been keen to sign another midfielder and that wish was granted just over three hours before yesterday’s 11pm transfer deadline.

United were surprisingly linked with Luton Town youngster Pelly Ruddock on Tuesday but the Hatters insisted the 23-year-old was not for sale.

In any case, Leeds then raided a Premier League cupboard with a move for Bournemouth’s Republic Of Ireland international O’Kane completed last night, as the 26-year-old joined on a two-year deal.

Two out-of-favour midfielders, Luke Murphy and Toumani Diagouraga, initially looked like heading out of Elland Road but both remained at LS11 an hour or so before last night’s deadline.

And following 11 summer recruits, United’s first XI is now unrecognisbale to the team that lined up at Preston in May – Marco Silvestri, Lewie Coyle, Charlie Taylor, Liam Cooper, Sol Bamba, Stuart Dallas, Luke Murphy, Toumani Diagouraga, Lewis Cook, Alex Mowatt and Chris Wood. Only one of that starting XI has moved on, the jewel in the crown, Cook. Nevertheless, United’s starting XI will look vastly different against Huddersfield Town a week on Saturday.

A line-up of Green, Ayling, Bartley, Jansson, Taylor, Hernandez, Bridcutt, O’Kane, Sacko, Antonsson and Wood perhaps. Nine changes to the team that finished off last season at Preston. Time will tell if it is significantly better. At least there was no need to pursue Bryan Verboom.

INS

Kemar Roofe (Oxford Utd, undisclosed, approx £3m)

Marcus Antonsson (Kalmar FF, undisclosed, approx £2m)

Liam Bridcutt (Sunderland, undisclosed, approx £1.5m)

EUNAN O’KANE (Bournemouth, undsclosed)

Luke Ayling (Bristol City, undisclosed, approx £750,000)

Robert Green (QPR, free)

Hadi Sacko (Sporting Lisbon, season loan)

Kyle Bartley (Swansea City, season loan)

Pontus Jansson (Torino, season loan)

Pablo Hernandez (Al-Arabi, 6-month loan)

Matt Grimes (Swansea City, season loan)

OUTS

Lewis Cook (Bournemouth, undisclosed, approx £6m, rising to £10m)

Mirco Antenucci (SPAL, released)

Guiseppe Bellusci (Empoli, season loan)

Scott Wootton (MK Dons, free)

Lee Erwin (Oldham, loan)

Jordan Botaka (Charlton Athletic, season loan)

Tommaso Bianchi (Ascoli, undisclosed)

Casper Sloth (AaB, undisclosed)

Eric Grimes (Cork City, released)

Alex Purver (Guiseley, 6-month loan).

Leeds United head coach Thomas Christiansen.

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