Leeds United: If it was up to me I’d keep hold of Sharp - Ritchie

PIC: Jonathan Gawthorpe
PIC: Jonathan Gawthorpe
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Clubs live and die by their goalscorers and you can’t have too many strikers in your squad.

Well, obviously that’s not strictly true. Every wage bill has its limits. But I’d never want to be short of strikers. When I played for Oldham Joe Royle had five or six of us to choose from – basically to make sure that his options didn’t run dry.

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With that in mind, Leeds United should be wary of rushing into a deal to sell Billy Sharp. But at the same time, his future is a real poser for Uwe Rosler. It is one of those situations where Uwe needs to do right by everyone – the club, the player and himself.

If Billy was a teenager or in his early 20s, you’d back his potential and tell him that even if he isn’t first choice next season, his time will come soon enough. At the age 29, it’s extremely difficult to placate a footballer in the same way.

Billy’s a very good forward at Championship level and he’s a proven finisher. That doesn’t mean he’s got a divine right to play every week but as a coach or a manager you’re naturally wary of holding back someone who really needs to be out there playing.

Will Billy play much next season? It’s quite hard to say. Chris Wood is a very big signing and I’m pretty sure that Uwe will build Leeds’ attacking line around him. In a 4-3-3 formation – a system Uwe definitely likes – I don’t really see where Billy fits in.

He could partner Wood no problem in a 3-5-2 set-up but then the club also have Lee Erwin and Mirco Antenucci to work with. Maybe they still believe they can make something of Souleymane Doukara. If it was down to me then I’d keep Billy because I still feel he can make a difference but when push comes to shove, he and Uwe will be quite pragmatic about this.

It might be that Uwe feels inclined to sell him, in which case Billy will have a fair few options. And to be fair to Billy, he might think that moving on is a better scenario than sitting on the bench and waiting for chances. Fair enough, everyone has to fight for their place but at 29 I’d guess that Sharp is desperate to be playing week in, week out.

No doubt he’ll have been frustrated by his first season at Leeds. I was excited to see him sign last summer but it’s fair to say that he didn’t hit the levels of performance we all expected of him. Who knows how much of that was down to him? He’d probably argue – and in fact, I’ve read quotes from him to this effect – that he didn’t play enough to make a proper impact. It’s also true that the systems the club used in a difficult year did nothing to help a striker like him.

In saying that, I’m not sure his performances actually did enough to warrant much more time on the pitch. So while Billy could throw things at you in this debate, you could equally throw things back at him. It was a season he’ll want to put behind him by rediscovering his best form quickly.

I get the impression that his future is very much in the balance. If Leeds were desperate to get rid of him then you’d think that a deal would have been done by now. And if he really wanted to go, the club would probably have looked at the other strikers on their books and decided that it was better to take Billy off the wage bill than keep an unhappy player at Elland Road.

A lot might actually rest on the pre-season friendlies coming up because if Billy looks sharp and in form, a decision to sell him becomes more and more difficult. We all know his pedigree and we all know what he’ll do if he gets into the groove. Sacrificing him would definitely be a risk.

I felt the same about Rodolph Austin and even now I’m a bit surprised at how willing Leeds were to release Austin. He’s got his limits, admittedly, but there were games in which he made an obvious and positive difference. I wouldn’t have been disappointed if the club had opted to retain him.

I’m in much the same mindset when it comes to Billy Sharp. There’s a strong argument for parting company if he’s far down the pecking order but I’d prefer to err on the side of caution. Can Billy still cut it at this level? Of course he can. And in a long, 46-game season, would it help to have him to call on? That question really answers itself.

Elland Road.

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