Former Leeds United striker Luke Varney insists he never refused to play for Leeds, after going on loan to Blackburn. Leon Wobschall reports.
AS MOVES go, Luke Varney’s switch from Portsmouth to Leeds United could best be described as a case of ‘out of the frying pan, into the fire.’
The much-travelled striker, 31, checked in at the eighth club of his professional career in Blackburn Rovers on Saturday morning, with the 93-day loan deal completed in time for him to be registered for their Championship clash at Middlesbrough, where he made his debut as a late sub.
He hopes – make that prays – that it signifies the beginning of a stable chapter in his nomadic career after some bewildering experiences at both Fratton Park and Elland Road.
Storms may be currently battering southern England, but it was a different kind of tempest – a financial one – that wreaked havoc during the final season of his time on the south coast at Pompey in 2011-12.
A madcap campaign saw Pompey forced to fight for dear life under a mountain of debts, with the financial turmoil seeing the club issued with a winding-up order by the HMRC for over £1.6m in unpaid taxes and docked 10 points for entering administration ahead of being relegated.
Varney and other players had agreed wage deferrals to ease the clubs plight with the striker eventually claiming his pass out of Pompey, much to his relief, in the summer of 2012 – after reaching a compromise agreement over deferred wages ahead of his sale to Leeds.
Fast forward to the current campaign, with Varney once again unwittingly caught up in the middle of another meltdown, this time at United, with the much-chronicled chaos of the last few weeks having been the talk of football.
Varney saw a loan move to Blackburn blocked on the craziest day of United’s history – Friday, January 31, 2014. A day which saw manager Brian McDermott sacked, only to be reinstated the following day.
Rudderless and ridiculed, United were a sorry mess, with players, management and supporters struggling to make sense of it all.
Varney says he went from expecting a move to be finalised on the Friday morning to Blackburn, to then being told by representatives of Massimo Cellino that he had a future at the club and would be in the side for the weekend derby with Huddersfield Town.
The following morning, he turned up at the ground expecting to be in the team’s plans, only to not be involved, with the make-up of the side changing several times in the build-up to the Town game, with the players not quite sure who would be in charge until a few hours before the derby.
Varney said: “I joined Leeds for a bit of security after the turmoil at Portsmouth and to be honest, it’s probably turned out a bit worse.
“Being at Blackburn is a breath of fresh air and I feel as if I’ve got my motivation back straightaway. Now I’m just looking forward to getting – not my anger out – but just a bit of frustration out and hopefully it will tell on the pitch.
“I’ve been trying to get there for a while. I was hoping it would have been the previous week, but circumstances at the club meant I was called back.
“It was just a bit of a ridiculous situation and I am just relieved it’s all over now.
“I was ready to go to Blackburn and was awaiting clearance to have my medical on that Friday.
“Then I was and told I would be in the squad and starting.
“But then I got to the ground and wasn’t in the squad as the takeover wasn’t finished in time and they had to keep things the same as what was planned on Friday, which I had no problem with.
“It was so weird. I get told I was coming back and am in the new owners plans... But once the gaffer said I could go, if he was in charge, my future would not lie there.
“I was told on the second or third of January that if the club got a solid offer in, I could leave the club, which I was fine with. I knew there were a couple of clubs in and they (Leeds) said if it worked for both the club and me, we could do it.
“Bristol City came in for me, but we couldn’t agree personal terms, so I left that one and waited for something else to come about. Then I got a solid offer from Blackburn.
“I then played in the Leicester game and enjoyed it and thought I might get a run in the side, but I still didn’t quite feel that my future lay with the club.”
Three days before that mad Friday, Varney – after a fine performance in the home game with Leicester on January 18 – wasn’t involved in the clash with Ipswich Town ten days later – after revealing to McDermott his fears that he might get injured ahead of an impending move to Blackburn and that he didn’t want to play in an ideal world.
Varney insists that despite that personal wish, he would have played if his manager had requested him to, but says that El-Hadji Diouf was promoted to the starting XI instead.
After the game, McDermott revealed that Varney refused to play ahead of a move to Rovers, which prompted social media criticism of the player among supporters.
Varney is adamant any criticism is unfair, while revealing that he subsequently cleared the air with McDermott ahead of his move.
He said: “Basically I said to the manager that I was worried about getting injured, but that if he did choose to play me that I would give 100 per cent like I did against Leicester. That was the end of that and he (McDermott) told me to go and train and then we’d have a chat after.
“He then came up to and said to me: ‘Listen Luke, we won’t play (you), we’ll play Dioufy.’ I said thank you to him as I was glad he understood my situation; I just thought I’d mention it as I didn’t want him thinking my mind wasn’t completely on the game.
“It was an adult conversation and there was no problem.
“But to see comments saying I refused to play was completely untrue and people who know me say I would never do that.
“I know Leeds fans were saying midway through the (Ipswich) game that it would have been good if I was playing because I would have caused Ipswich a few problems to about an hour later murdering me and it was a bit unfair, really.
“But I spoke to the manager about it and we cleared the air and it was fine.
“I’d like to thank the supporters for what they did for me, especially the Varney Army faithful.
“I enjoyed my time there; sometimes it was frustrating, but I just hope it all gets sorted for the supporters, because they are a good bunch who are as honest as anyone.
“Hopefully, everything will turn around and the take-over isn’t far away now and they can get clarification on it all.”