The contractual situation of a number of players at Elland Road will not make Steve Evans’s attempt to rebuild the United squad an easy exercise ahead of the 2016-17 campaign. Phil Hay reports.
Leeds United are accustomed to summer clear-outs, in no small part because of their turnover of managers. Simon Grayson was the last to make it from one summer transfer window to the next, back in 2012.
Changes of coaching staff bring changes of attitudes and Steve Evans left little doubt on Saturday that he will attempt to pick apart United’s squad when this season ends. His comments about “players who aren’t delivering” was a warning of rebuilding to come, assuming the job of head coach is his.
Evans signed a rolling contract when he was appointed in October and expects to be in charge when the summer window opens at the end of May. The Scot has plans in mind but he admitted over the weekend that substantial recruitment during the close-season would depend on a series of departures to balance a wage bill which owner Massimo Cellino currently estimates at £13m.
Year after year, Leeds have published lengthy released lists and moved on players signed by previous managers but the contractual situation at Elland Road will not make Evans’ job straightforward. Aside from loanees, Mirco Antenucci is the only senior player whose deal expires in June.
The striker asked to move back to Italy last month, a request United turned down due to the shortage of strikers on the club’s books, but he has not been offered a new contract and Leeds are unlikely to match his existing terms. His agent told the YEP last week that discussions about Antenucci’s future would wait until the Championship season finished.
Young goalkeeper Bailey Peacock-Farrell – an emerging academy player who has been understudy to Marco Silvestri in the absence of the injured Ross Turnbull – is close to the end of his contract but Leeds rate him highly and are expected to hand him an extension. Otherwise, United face a fight to move surplus squad members on and generate the financial power which Evans thinks he needs to sign his own targets.
The United boss spoke of that challenge on Saturday as he talked again about the reasons behind Leeds’ failure to go further in the January window.
“Every team, every chairman, they have a budget,” Evans said. “There’s a lot money been spent here on wages. So the first thing you have to do is look in before you look out.
“If you’re spending money on players who aren’t going to be able to take you where you want to go, therein lies the problem. The problem is not paying the money to get players in. The problem is adding that on top of money you’re already paying for players who aren’t delivering.
“For us to do certain things, certain players will need to leave. This budget is very healthy. Back in July it was a top-six budget and it still is today. The reason you’re not in the top six is because of players, isn’t it? It’s not because you’ve not paid the money.”
Leeds made certain players available for transfer last month but apart from the sale of Sam Byram to West Ham, Tommaso Bianchi was the only other departure on a half-season loan to Italian side Ascoli.
The midfielder’s career there began inauspiciously with a red card in his debut but Ascoli have negotiated an option to sign him permanently in the summer. Bianchi holds one of the longest contracts at Elland Road, tied down until 2018 alongside Giuseppe Bellusci, Souleymane Doukara and Marco Silvestri. All four received long-term deals as Cellino prepared for his first season as owner in 2014.
In total, eight of United’s first-team players have another two years left. Another two, Chris Wood and Luke Murphy, are under contract until 2019. The bulk of Evans’ squad are tied down to 2017, including Casper Sloth who has not made a league appearance for 12 months. Leeds are willing to listen to offers for Sloth but are keen to recoup some of the £600,000 fee they paid to sign him from Aarhus. Sloth did not attract any serious bids last month.
Amid those considerations, Evans and Cellino have decisions to make about players who they want to build around. United’s head coach hopes the club will soon begin discussions about the possibility of making Liam Bridcutt’s loan from Sunderland permanent. Evans is also interested in a full-time deal for Mustapha Carayol who came on a half-season loan from Middlesbrough last month.
“You see where that goes but if they were in the building next summer then we’d be probably be talking about signing four or five more,” Evans said. The club are also reaching the point where the contracts held by youngsters Alex Mowatt, Lewis Cook and Charlie Taylor – all of whom are signed to 2017 – look shorter than they should be.
“There’s no panic with that but there’ll certainly be conversations with their representatives,” Evans said. “That will be happening imminently I would think. The one thing that seemed to be forgotten in the transfer window was that yes, we lost Sam Byram, but we’ve kept three or four others.”
Evans admitted that eight months ago, when he was manager of Rotherham and Uwe Rosler was in charge at Leeds, he had no expectation of the squad at Elland Road challenging for promotion.
“Back in the summer, from a Rotherham point of view, I never looked at Leeds and thought they’d be top six or eight,” he said. “I really didn’t. I’ve got to make sure that most managers around the Championship think Leeds have a squad on July 1 this year that can properly challenge next year.”
LEEDS UINITED - THE PLAYERS’ CONTRACTS Mirco Antenucci is the only senior member of Leeds United’s squad who is due to reach the end of his contract this summer.
The striker, who pushed for a return to Italy during the January transfer window, is into the final stages of the two-year deal he agreed when Leeds United signed him from Ternana in 2014
Young goalkeeper Bailey Peacock-Farrell will also be out of contract at the end of the season but Leeds are highly likely to offer him an extension after his recent string of appearances on the bench.
Here is a breakdown of the contracts at Elland Road:
On loan – Liam Bridcutt, Mustapha Carayol, Tom Adeyemi.
2016 – Mirco Antenucci, Bailey Peacock-Farrell.
2017 – Sol Bamba, Scott Wootton, Casper Sloth, Liam Cooper, Alex Mowatt, Jordan Botaka, Charlie Taylor, Ross Turnbull, Lewis Cook, Kalvin Phillips, Casper Sloth, Lewie Coyle.
2018 – Marco Silvestri, Giuseppe Bellusci, Tommaso Bianchi, Souleymane Doukara, Stuart Dallas, Toumani Diagouraga, Lee Erwin, Gaetano Berardi.
2019 – Luke Murphy, Chris Wood.