This was always going to be a summer of hard work for Leeds United but with four signings made it’s fair to say that we’re getting on with it.
Compare us to Blackpool and you’ll see the difference between a club with a lot on their plate and a club in a bit of a crisis. I’ve never heard of a team cancelling their pre-season tour because of a lack of players before. Unless Blackpool have got something up their sleeve, it’s hard to see how they’ll be ready for the start of the season.
I don’t think you can say that Leeds are truly ready either but we’re seeing gradual steps forward and players coming in. I’m like most supporters – with the exception of Stuart Taylor, I don’t know much (or anything) about the new signings from abroad. Okay, I’ve seen their histories and their career stats and so on but that’s not the same as knowing what a player is actually about.
The observation I’d make is that in the cases of Marco Silvestri and Tommaso Bianchi, they’ve both joined on pretty long contracts. That’s significant because it suggests that Massimo Cellino expects plenty from them. He’ll want them to have time to grow and improve but he’ll also want to make sure they don’t fall prey to cheeky offers if their time in England goes well.
You see it happen so often – a lower league club does the hard work, picks up a talented prospect and then loses him to a Premier League outfit. Cellino is taking a gamble on these lads but he knows the Italian league and from his background I’d say that he knows a good footballer too so it makes sense to tie Silvestri and Bianchi down for the long term.
Of the three foreigners signed so far, Souleymane Doukara is probably the biggest punt – the most unknown quantity if you like. He’s a wait-and-see signing so again, on that basis, it’s sensible to take him on loan.
It might concern some supporters that we’re bringing in lads with such small profiles but my argument would be that it’s a fresh approach and a new strategy.
We’ve gone through the process of paying for familiar, established footballers from England and more often than not, it really hasn’t worked. Moreover, it makes failure very expensive.
Without knowing what they’re earning, I reckon the wages being paid to Doukara, Silvestri and Bianchi won’t be massive in Championship terms. If they succeed, it’s great business for the club. If one or all of them struggle, the deals spare Leeds from the financial worries you often get with surplus players.
Cameron Stewart is a good example. He came here on loan from Hull last season so the contract he agreed with Leeds – and was supposed to take up at the start of this month – must have been for pretty big money.
Towards the end of last season, I remember asking David Haigh, our MD at the time, “are we actually committed to signing this laddie?” Because let’s face it, he hadn’t been very impressive. Yet there we were, about to give him a three-year deal.
When you think about it rationally, we were staring down the barrel of another big contract held by a player who wasn’t showing signs of great quality. It’s a trap which this club have been caught in time and time before and I’d love to know how many millions of pounds have been lost to footballers who earn well at Elland Road but don’t make much of a contribution.
The question, of course, is whether a clutch of foreign signings thrown together in a matter of weeks will work. It’s impossible to know and it’s probably true that Cellino will only discover the precise standard of the Championship when he gets into a full season.
But let’s not forget that a similar sort of strategy worked pretty well for Watford. Their Italian owners came in, signed a lot of lads from Italy who weren’t big names and came within touching distance of automatic promotion. It was us who stopped them by winning at Vicarage Road on the last day of the 2012-13 season.
You don’t need a reputation to be a technically gifted player and technically gifted players are what we want. They say that Bianchi is a ball-player – someone who can control the midfield – and we had no-one like that last season.
In saying that, we do have some talent already in our squad. For starters, I’m looking for Luke Murphy to step it up next season and show that he’s a midfielder who belongs in the Championship. I’m looking for Sam Byram to return to the Sam Byram we knew two years ago and for the likes of Alex Mowatt and Matt Smith to keep developing at a fast rate.
You could argue that as much as the lads coming in need to prove themselves, so do the players they’re joining at Thorp Arch. I’m still expecting other changes to the squad before the campaign starts but I’m hoping to go to Saturday’s friendly at Guiseley and I’ll be fascinated to see what the new signings are bringing to the table.
In some ways, it’s exciting to be talking about lads with unknown potential. Who knows if we’ve uncovered a gem? It might not be conventional but it’s certainly a new way of thinking for our club.