STEVE EVANS is not ruling out the prospect of Mirco Antenucci having a longer-term future at Leeds United – but says he will have to prove his worth to earn a fresh deal.
The 31-year-old was strongly linked with a return to his native Italy in the January transfer window, with Ascoli among several clubs who were interested.
But Antenucci’s agent Silvio Pagliari moved this week to stress that the forward was happy at Leeds – with his comments coming after his client was understood to have told United that he wished to go home to Italy during the window after his partner gave birth to their second child.
A decision is now likely regarding Antenucci, whose current Elland Road deal ends in June, at the end of the season, with Leeds reluctant to part company with the forward ahead of last Monday’s deadline.
On the future of Antenucci, who stressed back in November that he was keen to stay at Leeds and will be open to the prospect of signing a new contract, Evans said: “I think for anyone to get a contract beyond a contract ending, they have to be in the team as a regular and producing performances that make it – in coaching terms – a ‘no-brainer’ for me to recommend to the president that we do something.
“I thought Antenucci was outstanding at Bolton. And he looked really bright in the game before when he came on.
“I never thought for one minute he would have gone in January, I really didn’t.
“I knew there was a lot of interest in Italy. But I always thought he’d be around because he loves being at Leeds United and I think he wants to be here.
“But to be here beyond the summer, he has to produce the performances he did for 45 minutes on Saturday.
“There were offers (in January). But they were never accepted.”
Meanwhile, Evans has revealed that he expects right-back Gaetano Berardi to return to action in a fortnight.
The Swiss, whose two-year contract expires this summer, has been sidelined since suffering a torn ankle ligament in the 0-0 draw at Charlton on December 12 – with the blow coming just after serving a two-match suspension for a red card.
Evans added: “He is back on the grass with the medical team and is running almost at full speed, twisting and turning.
“I would expect Bera to be in the group certainly by half way through next week. Then as soon as he trains three or four days – and he’s an incredibly fit young man – (he’ll be back).
“In our three or four months here, we have had some big players missing. So having every one of those back available again will help us.”
Number two keeper Ross Turnbull is also making progress and could also be back in the fray by the end of this month, Evans confirmed.
On Turnbull, 31, who broke his ankle in a behind-closed-doors training game in mid October, Evans said: “I think Ross is probably three or four weeks away.
“He is probably just not as further or as far on as we’d like him to be. He’s a top goalkeeper, but we also have a special goalkeeper (Bailey Peacock-Farrell) sitting on our bench.”
Turnbull, 31, has made just one first-team appearance for Leeds, in the Capital One Cup game at Doncaster Rovers in August.