Liam Bridcutt’s interest in rejoining Leeds United was always conditional and not just conditional on him earning the right salary. Late last season the midfielder spelled it out: that he would sign for Leeds permanently provided the club could show him some tangible ambition.
In the months since his loan at Elland Road expired in May, Leeds have overhauled their staff and their squad. The coaching team of Steve Evans and Paul Raynor – the pair who brought Bridcutt to United in the first place - moved on and much of the playing squad is unrecognisable. When he finally moved from Sunderland on a two-year deal on Tuesday, Bridcutt became summer signing number nine. Yesterday, Sweden international Pontus Jansson took the tally to 10.
United’s form to date – a draw, two defeats and a penalty shoot-out victory in the League Cup at Fleetwood Town – is somewhat less than a start to the season to die for but Bridcutt liked their work in the transfer market and liked the idea of working with Garry Monk.
“One of the keys for me was the manager,” Bridcutt said. “He’s a guy I’ve played against and I like the style of football his teams play. It convinced me that this was the team for me.
“He knows what he’s talking about and he’s been at the highest level. He had a great team at Swansea and one of the reasons I was desperate to come back was that I wanted to work with him.
“The signings they’ve made here are good signings and positive signings. The manager’s going to attract better players.
“I set my standards high and I always want to progress in my career. Every club I go to, I want to be at a club who aren’t just happy to sit where they are. I want a club with a bit of ambition. Leeds are that club.
“There’s no point being a footballer if you’re happy to sit where you are. Every day you want to get better. Every game you need to get better – if you want to be at the top.”
Whatever Sunderland’s immediate ambition, Bridcutt’s desire to be part of the fabric there burned out many months ago. Sunderland were no more opposed to the idea of letting him go this summer. His move to Leeds was, from the very outset, a transfer that all three parties wanted but between a change of manager at the Stadium of Light – David Moyes for Sam Allardyce – and endless bartering over Bridcutt’s £26,000-a-week contract in the north east, the deal took almost three months to complete.
“There were times when I didn’t think it was going to happen,” Bridcutt said. In the interim he trained with Sunderland’s youngsters, omitted from the first-team schedule and a pre-season tour to France. “It’s always in the back of your mind – what’s going to happen and where are you going to go? All I knew was that I needed to keep myself fit and ready.
“I was at the stage with Sunderland where my time there was done. I needed to go somewhere and start playing regular games. My first choice was Leeds. I came here last season and had a great spell but the longer it was going on and the closer it was getting to the end of the window, we were in contact with a few other clubs. It was lucky it was done at the right time.
“Last season I made that decision to leave (Sunderland). The club probably made that decision too. It was time for me to go. I had a good year there under Gus Poyet but after that it wasn’t the best. It was the right time for me to move on.”
The groundswell of support in Leeds for Bridcutt’s return was obvious, even for someone without a Twitter account. “I’m not on social media but from what my friends were telling me, the fans were desperate to get me back,” Bridcutt said. “That gives me a boost to go and do well.”
Regular football was served up for him at Elland Road last term. He played 27 times for Evans before missing the Scot’s final game as head coach with a minor injury. Evans had included Bridcutt on a list of targets he planned to pursue if Massimo Cellino retained him as first-team boss. When Monk succeeded Evans in June, he analysed video footage of the 2015-16 season and realised that Bridcutt’s defensive, holding mindset was exactly what his midfield needed.
Tomorrow’s derby at Sheffield Wednesday, never a fixture for fragile personalities, should seem to Bridcutt like a good game to make his comeback appearance in. “Any game for me,” he admitted. “I’ve been dying to play. I’ve had a tough pre-season and I’m ready to go.”
Hillsborough was the venue where United’s previous campaign met its end in January. Evans had taken Leeds into that critical week with the aim of closing in rapidly on the Championship’s play-off places. An injury-time defeat at Ipswich Town, followed by a self-inflicted loss at Wednesday four days later, sent Leeds back into the wilds of mid-table. United dominated stretches of the game at Hillsborough but gifted Gary Hooper two easy goals at the start of the second half.
“If you look at the performance, up until we conceded we were in the game,” Bridcutt said. “We looked like we were in control and within the first 25 minutes we had opportunities to put the game to bed. I hope this season we’re a lot wiser to that and everyone needs to have it in the back of their minds – we do owe them.”