Neil Warnock insisted today that he would be given final say on offers for any of Leeds United’s players as he responded to fears of imminent bids for Luciano Becchio and Sam Byram.
Warnock said he had received no approaches for leading members of his squad since the start of the January transfer window and claimed consideration of inquiries was “entirely down to me” amid suggestions that clubs are ready to move in for two of United’s more valuable players.
Leeds assistant manager Mick Jones admitted on Saturday that he was expecting intense interest in Becchio and Byram after Becchio claimed his 19th goal of the season and Byram came off the bench to help to force a 1-1 draw in a FA Cup third-round tie against Birmingham City.
Both players are contracted beyond this season – Becchio’s deal runs until June 2014 and 19-year-old Byram signed an extended three-year contract in August – but their respective form has convinced Jones that offers will be made for the pair before January ends.
Becchio’s strike rate of 19 goals in 29 appearances is likely to have caught the eye of teams at the lower end of the Premier League and England’s top division is presently awash with managers in the market for new right-backs.
Several have sent scouts to monitor Byram’s performances in his first season as a professional but a prominent agent spoken to by the YEP said United’s high valuation of academy products was likely to dissuade certain clubs from targeting the teenager.
Warnock admitted that speculation was “inevitable” but said Leeds’ new owners, GFH Capital, had promised to leave a decision on incoming offers to him.
“We’re focused on players coming in, not players going out,” Warnock said. “I can’t stop speculation and I’m seeing plenty of it but the new owners have been very clear with me – nobody will be going from here unless I say so.
“They’ve given me complete control over that and the decision on any offers we get is entirely down to me. I know where I stand and we haven’t had any offers anyway.
“I said before the window opened that we need to build on what’s here and that’s the priority for me and the owners.”
The takeover of United by GFH Capital went through 10 days before the start of the transfer window but the Dubai-based firm’s promise of funding for Warnock was tempered by a warning that it would not invest “crazy money” in the squad.
The club’s dealings so far have been unspectacular, consisting of the £150,000 purchase of Ryan Hall – a deal arranged when the winger initially joined Leeds on loan from Southend United – and an extension of Alan Tate’s loan until the last weekend of January.
Leeds are hopeful that extended negotiations with Stoke City will lead to the return of former loanee Michael Tonge before Saturday’s game with Barnsley but despite their interest in Nottingham Forest’s Dexter Blackstock and a spate of rumours, further arrivals look likely to wait until at least next week.
Warnock said: “There’s plenty going on but I’m not prepared to say anything until we’ve got players through the door.
“We’ve got lists for each position and it’s a case of going through your targets, seeing what’s possible and then trying to get deals over the line. It’s not as easy as saying ‘we want him so let’s get him’. A lot depends on other clubs as much as it does on us.
“We’re in good form at the moment and we’re in pretty good shape so we don’t need to be rushing into signing players we don’t really want. But we do have work to do and we’re all getting on with it.”
Warnock was back at Thorp Arch on Tuesday morning after last week becoming a victim of the virus that has been affecting numerous members of United’s squad.
He stayed at home while Leeds were contesting their FA Cup tie against Birmingham but listened to commentary of the game on the radio and remained in constant touch with his coaching team of Jones and Ronnie Jepson, phoning them at half-time to implement two substitutions.
A second half goal from Becchio earned Leeds a 1-1 draw and means a replay in Birmingham next week. The winner of the tie will play Tottenham Hotspur at home in round four and Warnock promised to field a full team at St Andrew’s, encouraged by United’s run to the quarter-finals of the Capital One Cup before Christmas.
“I’m pleased we’re still in there and I want us to go through,” he said. “We’ll be putting out a full team at Birmingham, no question. There’ll be no experimenting or anything like that.
“We’ve already had a good cup run and I’d like another. Spurs in the next round is a cracking draw for whoever goes through.
“Listening on the radio (on Saturday) was a strange experience but this virus has affected just about everyone. Mick was struggling on Saturday but took the game anyway and he’s come down with it properly now. We’re almost at the point where the virus will disappear because there’s no one left to catch it.”
Rodolph Austin was among the victims last weekend and lingering illness forced him to miss a scheduled appearance at a supporters’ event at Elland Road on Monday night. But the midfielder is expected to be available for Saturday’s trip to Barnsley, whose search for a new manager was further complicated last night when Inverness boss Terry Butcher turned the position down.
Barnsley jettisoned their former manager Keith Hill having fallen to the bottom of the Championship but Warnock, whose team claimed a fortunate 1-0 win over the South Yorkshire club at Elland Road in October, said: “I felt for Keith. He was doing a reasonable job in the circumstances and they outplayed us for the first half-hour when they came to Elland Road. They looked a good side.
“I spoke to him last week and he was really disappointed but it’s been surreal to see how many Championship managers have gone in the weeks around Christmas. It hardly breeds confidence for the rest of us.
“Barnsley are struggling but I’m expecting they might have a new manager by Saturday and you’ve seen many times how teams react in those situations.
“Nobody should be telling me that this is an easy game.”