Leeds United: Monk’s recruiting rationale has merit

Kyle Bartley.
Kyle Bartley.
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Huddersfield Town might have won the race to complete their summer signings, but West Yorkshire rivals Leeds United have been no slouches so far in that department. Phil Hay reports.

The most active Championship club this summer have been Huddersfield Town by some distance.

A 12th signing last week, that of young Chelsea striker Kasey Palmer, allowed head coach David Wagner to openly declare that “our business is done.”

Wagner is alone in that respect and among 23 other managers, Leeds United’s included, the hunt for players goes on.

Leeds have more deals completed than most, as many as any other side in the league except Preston North End, but the Championship relies on quality over quantity, except for clubs who have the money to enjoy both.

Garry Monk is mindful of both, which is why Leeds’ approach for Fleetwood Town defender Conor McLaughlin fizzled out on Tuesday.

United contacted Fleetwood about McLaughlin’s availability over the weekend and were told that a bid of around £300,000 would go close to the right-back’s valuation but Monk considered the opportunity and ruled against it.

His rationale was simple: that rather than bringing in basic cover, Leeds should be signing a player at least as good as Gaetano Berardi.

Leeds were linked yesterday with free agent Reece Wabara, the former Manchester City trainee who won the League One title with Wigan Athletic last season before leaving the DW Stadium at the end of his contract, and it remains to be seen if he is more in line with Monk’s requirements.

It was not necessarily a cliche when United’s head coach said last week: “When we sign players, we have to be signing them because we think they’re better.

“We have to be signing them because they’re an improvement.

“I’m very clear about that.”

A large portion of Leeds’ season ticket income, potentially 50 per cent of it, has been risked on the club’s improving from 13th place to sixth in the Championship this season.

The question with the first league game at Queens Park Rangers coming round quickly is whether Monk’s strongest line-up as it stands is better or more adequately suited to the competition than Steve Evans’ was in May.

Minus the injured Liam Bridcutt and Berardi – currently a concern again, albeit with a different problem – the line-up chosen by Evans for United’s last Championship fixture was essentially full strength.

Evans went out at Preston that day with a warning that around six signings would be the minimum needed to bridge the gap from mid-table to the play-offs.

The addition of Rob Green and the return from injury of Ross Turnbull, who played 90 minutes in Ireland last week without any problem with the ankle he broke in October, has given Monk a markedly different choice of goalkeepers.

Marco Silvestri was Evans’ pick at Deepdale, with Bailey Peacock-Farrell in reserve, but Silvestri is out of the picture and has not even featured in the club’s recent Under-21 friendlies.

Peacock-Farrell took part in a 2-0 win at Tadcaster Albion on Tuesday night.

Green is a former England international, 11 years older than Silvestri, but the key difference highlighted by Monk was the 36-year-old’s experience of English football and the fact that he has grown up in its culture.

Silvestri drew acclaim for his short-stopping but after two seasons at Elland Road United came to the conclusion that his continental game was not developing quickly enough.

A potential backline of Berardi, Kyle Bartley, Liam Cooper and Charlie Taylor is not far removed from the defence of Lewie Coyle, Sol Bamba, Cooper and Taylor which Evans fielded against Preston.

But the transfer of Bartley in and Giuseppe Bellusci out was an essential move by the Elland Road club.

Bartley is a tall, imposing centre-back whose vocal performances in Ireland might stand him out as a possible captain in Monk’s eyes, despite the fact he joined Leeds on loan.

He also comes without the baggage or reputation of Bellusci who said last month that a temporary move to Empoli was in his best interests after a fractious spell in England.

“It took me 48 hours,” said Bellusci when asked how long he had given himself to weigh up the move.

Without him, Leeds still want another central defender.

The centre of midfield is where the club’s resources have taken the biggest hit since the end of last season.

Tom Adeyemi had a few moments of note but his return to Cardiff City in May was the end of an underwhelming loan.

Bridcutt, in contrast, was a mainstay in Evans’ team and it was no coincidence that Leeds dealt quickly with the threat of relegation after his loan from Sunderland was finalised.

Leeds’ attempt to sign Bridcutt permanently is at an impasse, however, and unlikely to progress while Leeds and Sunderland remain at odds over the finances involved.

But while Bridcutt’s return was never certain, there was no apparent sign of Lewis Cook leaving until Leeds took a £10m offer from Bournemouth in the second week of pre-season.

Monk rated Cook so highly that he asked the teenager to forego a trip to the European Under-19 Championship with England to complete a full pre-season at Leeds.

“That was down to me and only me,” Monk said. “I felt it would be best for me, the team and for him to have him here.

“Then the rumours about interest him became more real and the club decided that in the circumstances the deal was one they should take.

“As I’ve said before, that’s how it goes at almost every club.

“Lewis was great, never a problem, and in the short time I worked with him I got to know him personally too.

“I liked him a lot and of course I thought a lot of his talent.”

Monk signed Matt Grimes, an England Under-21 international, from Swansea City prior to Cook’s exit, but there is a gap in his resources for a marquee midfielder.

Up front, though, he has a wider choice than Evans; a wider choice than the attacking options of Wood, Stuart Dallas, Mirco Antenucci, Jordan Botaka and Souleymane Doukara which Evans took to Deepdale.

Antenucci left Leeds in May but the club have signed Kemar Roofe, Marcus Antonsson and Hadi Sacko since his exit.

United would take NEC Nijmegen’s Anthony Limbombe if the asking price and Limbombe’s on-going dispute with NEC were to ease in the next few weeks.

It would seem, then, that Leeds’ current head coach will have stronger hand than his predecessor – but not deep enough yet to turn 13th place into sixth or water into wine.

Leeds United’s line-up on the last day of the 2015-16 season: Silvestri, Coyle, Bamba, Cooper, Taylor, Murphy, Mowatt, Cook, Diagouraga, Dallas, Wood. Subs: Wootton, Vieira, Phillips, Botaka, Antenucci, Doukara, Peacock-Farrell.

Garry Monk’s possible Leeds United line-up (asthe current squad stands): Green, Berardi, Bartley, Cooper, Taylor, Dallas, Grimes, Diagouraga, Roofe, Wood, Antonsson. Subs: Turnbull, Bamba, Sacko, Mowatt, Murphy, Botaka, Vieira.

Leeds United's players training at the Jenbach Stadium in Austria. New signing Matthew Pennington joins his new team mates.

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