Leeds United fans struggle to tolerate the loss of the club’s best players but their frustration is compounded when the club fail to reinvest that cash in quality replacements. Phil Hay reports.
The anger generated by Jonny Howson’s move to Norwich City in 2012 was not simply due to the transfer itself. Leeds United exacerbated it by taking the money and allowing that January window to go by with no more than a cursory amount of recruitment.
Leeds received £2million for Howson, their club captain at the time, but limited themselves to half-season loans for Andros Townsend and Fabian Delph before taking Adam Smith from Tottenham on the final day of the window. Simon Grayson was sacked the following morning, Townsend asked to leave soon after and Delph’s loan was cut short by an ankle injury.
As Sam Byram prepares to quit Elland Road for West Ham United, the question facing Leeds once more is what they will do with the fee. Massimo Cellino, United’s owner, claimed West Ham had under-cut Everton’s £3.7m offer with a “much lower” bid but the club are still likely to earn in excess of £3m once Byram’s transfer to London goes through.
Steve Evans, Leeds’ head coach, always hoped that any money generated from player sales would go straight back into his first-team squad. Though Cellino broke a vow not to sell Byram this month – insisting in September that “I didn’t sell anyone in the summer and I’m not selling anyone in January” – he also insisted that United’s accounts were strong enough to make outgoing transfers unnecessary. “We don’t need anything from anyone,” Cellino told Sky.
In his time as first-team boss, Evans has swung between applauding individual members of his team and criticising others. After last week’s 2-1 defeat at Ipswich Town, he reiterated his view that Leeds needed at least three new players on top of the two loan signings completed in the first half of January.
After a week dominated by attempts to resolve Byram’s future, United are rapidly approaching the closing stages of a window which shuts at 11pm on February 1.
Evans’ two recruits to date were secured in the opening fortnight of the month, with Liam Bridcutt extending his loan from Sunderland and Mustapha Carayol joining from Middlesbrough until the end of the season. Elsewhere in the market, Evans has been unable to make similar progress.
Leeds have kept alive the interest in signing Kyle Lafferty from Norwich City but that deal will not go ahead unless Norwich shift their present stance and allow the striker to leave on loan. City want a permanent deal which takes Lafferty off their wage bill and the 28-year-old’s position has become more peripheral after Norwich tied up the signing of Steven Naismith from Everton. Bristol City are rumoured to be looking into signing Lafferty.
Evans also made an approach for midfielder Tom Rogic at Celtic but the Glasgow club reacted coldly to that enquiry and immediately began talking to Rogic about a new contract.
Celtic would hold out for a higher fee than the £1m valuation set by Leeds and their manager, Ronny Deila, has attempted to persuade Rogic that a move to Elland Road would harm his career.
“I don’t think any Championship club is a step up from Celtic,” Deila said.
“They should go straight to the Premier League if they are going to go from here. The Championship is not a step up from Celtic in my opinion.”
Evans remains keen to sign an additional centre-back and there are suggestions that he could look again at Tony Watt, a forward who Leeds narrowly failed to land in November.
United had a deal in place to sign Watt on an emergency basis but were outbid by Cardiff and chose not to match the offer from Wales. Charlton, however, have refused to allow Watt to remain with City for the rest of the Championship season and Cardiff are unable to sign him permanently after receiving a transfer embargo for a breach of Financial Fair Play (FFP) rules.
Evans insisted over the weekend that negotiations for players were ongoing, saying: “In fairness to the club I know they’re working hard above me to try and secure some things. I’ll look forward to seeing where that goes.”
The 53-year-old, however, is looking increasingly to next season after back-to-back defeats to Ipswich and Sheffield Wednesday all but ruled Leeds out of the chase for the play-offs.
United are 13 points adrift after a 2-0 defeat at Hillsborough and the club’s head coach said he was aiming for a strong finish to this campaign and a lengthy run in the FA Cup.
“I certainly don’t give it up and we’ve got a lot to build for, not only this season but for next season too,” Evans said.
“There’s a lot right out there and there are a lot of good players in Leeds United shirts. There will always be some who say that’s not good enough but the performance (at Hillsborough) was very good in spells.
“We’re building something here and it takes time to build. You can’t build if you’ve not got the right head coach but if you’ve got the right head coach then you can. I’ve always said that if I get time I’ll build a side that wins promotion.
“I’m looking ahead to Bristol City (at Elland Road on Saturday) and I’d like to think with anyone who comes in now, if it’s a loan signing we’ll have an option to keep him or we’ll bring in some permanent signings.
“But we’ve got a lot to play for. We’ve got Bristol City and then the FA Cup, and we think we can be quite special in the FA Cup this season.”