It’s not uncommon to hear people say that Premier League clubs will soon start taking an interest in Robert Snodgrass.
I’m sorry to report that they’re looking at him already.
Any scout worth his salt must have taken up that trail months ago. If not, they’d be better off in a different line of employment.
Whenever I go to Elland Road, I see the eyes and ears of Manchester United, Liverpool and the like.
Scouts are no more than faces in the crowd to the average supporter but after 20-odd years in the game, you come to recognise some of these guys.
You ask who they’re watching and I’d be lying if I said that Snodgrass hasn’t been mentioned.
To be honest, it’s no great secret and no great surprise. Anyone who thinks he is flying under the radar is more than a little naive.
The same was true of Fabian Delph, the last expensive asset sold by Leeds United. I lost count of the number of people who turned up at Elland Road to see what the fuss was about and you knew that someone with money would test the water eventually. You also knew that, with Leeds in League One, the chances of convincing Delph that he was better off staying put were extremely thin. He always came across as a good, down-to-earth lad but that’s neither here nor there when Aston Villa are laying a contract in front of him.
Leeds have an advantage with Snodgrass in as much as they are now a Championship club knocking on the door of the Premier League. Delph’s situation was different. It was pointless and disingenuous to tell him that Leeds were a top-flight side in the making. I’m not denying that the club had that aura and potential but it would have taken a massive leap of faith for a teenager with his ability to turn Villa down and stay in the League One. At the very least, Delph was looking at two more seasons before getting the chance to play in the Premier League with Leeds.
When that transfer happened, the majority of supporters seemed to accept it as fair and inevitable. No-one could have accused Delph of making a mistake. You should never be happy to lose such a gifted teenager but the reason he went with everyone’s blessing was because the move made sense to all parties. Leeds earned handsomely, Villa got a prodigy and Delph moved on to one of the finest leagues in the world. There’s no real loser in that equation.
Were Snodgrass to depart Elland Road this summer - and you can be sure that his future will be a constant topic of conversation from here on - I doubt we’d see the same level of tolerance. As Leeds discovered last season, players as outrageously talented as Delph are not essential in League One. You can cope without them. But when you get to the bridge between the Championship and the Premier League, you really need all the quality you can get.
United cannot afford to lose Snodgrass and if that means upping his wages or addressing the length of his contract then the club should start speaking to him promptly. From what I know of the lad, he won’t be angling for a move and he won’t be causing mischief. He looks pretty settled. But Leeds might as well accept that plenty of people outside Elland Road can cause mischief for him if his contractual situation allows it.
Should an offer from the Premier League appeal to him? I’m probably the wrong person to ask. I became so attached to Leeds United that I’d have found it very hard, perhaps impossible, to walk away against the club’s wishes. As I’ve said before, the two biggest transfers of my career were transfers I didn’t want to make. I didn’t want to leave Liverpool and I didn’t want to leave Leeds. But not every player will see my point. I was extremely lucky to end up at two clubs where I felt like I belonged.
And at the end of the day, they gave me Premiership football. Ever better than that, Leeds took me into the Champions League. You might think it’s a cliche to say that footballers want to reach the highest level of competition but you’d be wrong. If anything, it’s the definition of ambition. Towards the end of my days as a player, when I dropped into the Championship with Stoke City, I really felt the difference. It was a fast, dramatic league but it wasn’t the Premiership. You’re very much aware that you’re sitting away from the top table. In all honestly, I’d have found struggled in the prime of my career to stay at that level for any serious length of time.
It’s worth remembering that Snodgrass and the entire Leeds squad have already had a sniff of the Premier League - against Arsenal this season and at Manchester United and Tottenham Hotspur last season. It only ever leaves you wanting more of the same. And there’s another strand to this argument - players invariably get better with better players around them. It’s the obvious way of maximising your potential. That was true of me and it’s been true of many others. Look at the performances of Charlie Adam since he was thrown into the Premier League with Blackpool.
As a result of playing in the Champions League, I’d say I improved by 50 per cent. That’s not an exaggeration. In games against Real Madrid, Barcelona and AC Milan, you were coming up against the cream of European football. I took the view that if I didn’t improve my consistency and my quality, I’d end up getting embarrassed. My intensity increased and my workrate went through the roof. In our 3-3 draw against Lazio at Elland Road, I spent half the time kicking Fabrizio Ravanelli around the pitch. Eventually, Eirik Bakke collared me and said ‘for God’s sake, will you calm down.’ I think that’s what they call ‘in the zone’.
I get the feeling that if you launched Snodgrass into a Champions League match tomorrow, he’d fair pretty well. I say that on the basis that as he’s climbed through the leagues and into the Scotland squad, he’s made a marked improvement with every step. That’s by far the best indication of a player’s ability; moreso than brilliant goals. With one club or another, he’ll go a long way in this game.
You could say that about a few of the lads at Leeds. For me, Jonny Howson has been as good as anyone this season. There’s another example of someone who needs a chance in the long-term to mix it with elite professionals. And having played for the England Under-21s last week, I doubt whether Howson is setting himself the goal of remaining in the Championship for the rest of his career. He wouldn’t be very ambitious if he is.
In my heart, I hope that the likes of him and Snodgrass will see their futures at Elland Road regardless of how this season ends. In my head, I can see clubs piling in if Leeds aren’t a Premier League side by the end of May. Promotion is their best defence against outside interest. Failing that, they must make sure their most vital players are contracted to the hilt. Every footballer has his price. In certain cases, that price should be set ridiculously high.
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