Michael Tonge wants to earn himself the chance of a permanent transfer to Leeds United after conceding that his career at Stoke City is all but over.
The midfielder, who joined Leeds on a three-month loan from Stoke on Thursday, said he needed to be “playing and enjoying football again” following an unsuccessful four-year spell at the Britannia Stadium.
His temporary move to Elland Road solved serious selection issues in the centre of United’s midfield but the deal was as much in Tonge’s interests after Stoke made his position clear by leaving him out of their 25-man Premier League squad.
City paid £2million to sign Tonge from Sheffield United in 2008 but he is into the final year of his contract and will part company with the club in the next 12 months.
He and Warnock worked together for seven years at Bramall Lane and his switch to Leeds this week reunited the pair five years on from their last spell together.
Tonge said: “I’m in my last year at Stoke so I’m going to be moving on at some point. This is an ideal opportunity to prove myself and show that I can play at this level still. I’m confident I can.
“I’d love to get something permanent sorted. Whether it’s here, I’d need to play well enough to prove I’m worth that. But I need to be playing and start enjoying football again. Training through the week with nothing at the end of it is no good for me.
“When I was with the gaffer (Warnock) at Sheffield United we had a lot of good seasons there. I enjoyed working under him. It does makes it easier coming to a club when you know the manager. He knows what you can do and what type of player you are.
“I’ve been on loans before where I didn’t know people and it’s a slightly different scenario. It’ll be easier to settle in here.
“I would have jumped at this chance whatever but with the gaffer ringing me up and asking me to come here, I had no hesitation. It didn’t take me any time at all to make up my mind.”
Leeds approached Tonge after losing David Norris to a torn thigh muscle, an injury which will keep the former Ipswich Town captain on the sidelines until after next month’s international break.
Warnock was anxious to cover a gap in his team for up to seven matches but he agreed a 93-day deal with Tonge to guard against another selection crisis if Norris’ absence extends beyond United’s derby at Sheffield Wednesday on October 19.
The Leeds boss urged Tonge to “try and keep your place” in the weeks before Norris returns and the 29-year-old believes his fitness will stand up to the strain of a busy Championship schedule, despite his lack of appearances at Stoke this season. The Premier League club limited him to a number of appearances for their Under-21 side.
Tonge, who was in line to make his Leeds debut against Cardiff City this afternoon, said: “I’ve not played any first-team football but at Stoke if you’re not playing they do try to keep you fit.
“Although I’ve not had first-team games and I don’t have that match sharpness, I’m probably as fit as I could have been going into this loan. If I get some games under my belt and get some minutes on the pitch then I’ll be up to the pace before long.
“I needed to play this season because I went out on loan to Barnsley towards the end of last season and didn’t play as much as I wanted to. When you go out towards the end of the season, you always find it tough because you literally are playing catch-up with everybody. At this stage in my career I need to be playing as much as I can. I played against Leeds quite a few times when I was at Sheffield United and it’s common knowledge that this is a massive club. I’m really excited to be here.”
Tonge is surrounded by familiar faces at Elland Road having played with Michael Brown at Sheffield United, Danny Pugh at Stoke and Paul Green during a previous loan spell at Derby County.
His relationship with Warnock goes back more than a decade – he won promotion to the Premier League at Bramall Lane under the current Leeds boss in 2006 – and Tonge said: “It is a little bit weird.
“I’ve not played with Browny for ages because he left Sheffield United some time ago and it’s been a few years since I worked with the gaffer but it seems like two minutes when you all get back together. You soon slip into it again.
“I know quite a few of the lads and from what everyone says, it’s a really good group here. I can see a good spirit among them and that’ll take the team a long way this season.
“Each season the Championship gets tighter and tighter and this will be no exception. But the lads here have started well, they’ve played a couple of sides who got relegated last season and they’ve held their own.
“That bodes well.”