The January transfer window in 2007 was Leeds United’s chance to redeem the failings of the second half of 2006.
Put simply, it was the club’s most glaring opportunity to fend off relegation from the Championship – a genuine threat after 26 games.
Their business in that critical month was indicative of the entire season: half-hearted, ineffective and muddled. In amongst a group of questionable transfers, Tore Andre Flo looked like the pick of the bunch.
Dennis Wise saw him as a get-out-of-jail-free card and signed him without paying a fee.
Flo and Wise had played together at Chelsea and both of them thrived at Stamford Bridge. With other clubs, Flo’s contribution fell well below the value of his transfer fees and he was passing over the hill when Leeds took him from Valarenga. It said much about the 33-year-old’s stock that he had made his return to the Norwegian leagues by then.
Wise was quietly thrilled by Flo’s arrival in Leeds. “Tore is a goalscorer with a lot of ability,” he said. “Some of the lads here were gobsmacked when they saw his touches in training and his finishing. They were taken aback by him.”
Flo’s impact at Elland Road was a flash in the pan.
Wise used him as a substitute in an FA Cup tie at West Bromwich Albion days after his transfer and Flo scored on his home debut against the same club.
Characteristically, both games ended in defeat and Flo was lost to a fractured foot without kicking a ball again.
“He’s got a hairline fracture and he’s going to be out for six to eight weeks which is a massive blow,” Wise said. The true diagnosis was more severe and Flo missed the rest of the season, playing a total of 90 minutes in a dismal Championship term. Leeds were bottom of the table at the beginning of February and did not recover in his absence.
Besides Flo, Wise had used the January window to recruit Robbie Elliott and Armando Sa and sign loanees Tresor Kandol and Matt Heath on permanent deals.
Alan Thompson followed on a temporary basis from Celtic, a deal in tune with United’s urgent requirements, but with Flo unavailable for four months and Thompson absent for most of February and March, the recruitment drive of a club headed for relegation and administration was woefully inadequate.
Leeds were decimated in the summer that followed their descent to League One, declared insolvent and forced into a bitter and unsatisfactory takeover process.
Several players moved on quickly – David Healy, Richard Cresswell, Robbie Blake and others – but Flo stuck around in spite of lingering questions about his fitness. He scored a late and crucial goal in Leeds’ 4-1 win over Southend United on the second week of the 2007-08 season and struck again in wins over Huddersfield Town and Port Vale before Christmas.
The forward described himself as born-again, saying: “It’s been a hard time for me.
“At the end of last season I was in plaster and I wasn’t even close to playing. It was maybe the most frustrating time of my career but the goals make it worthwhile.”
It was not the end of the tunnel for Flo and when injury took him again in March 2008, the striker retired – albeit for a matter of months.
He left Leeds as little more than an emblem of so much that went wrong.