Leeds United’s attempt to sign Joel Ward was in the balance today with the Portsmouth defender set to hold talks with two more clubs over the weekend.
Ward is preparing to meet with officials from two unnamed Championship sides after a delay in his proposed move to Elland Road.
The 22-year-old is one of Neil Warnock’s prime targets and met the United manager for talks earlier this month but Leeds are yet to close out a £400,000 transfer, despite Ward appearing to favour the option of joining them.
Portsmouth have been in administration for three months and are looking to sell the player in an effort to help the club avoid financial collapse.
United paid Portsmouth £500,000 to secure centre-back Jason Pearce two weeks ago and appeared to be at the head of the queue for Ward’s signature after making their interest known.
Three other Championship clubs – Crystal Palace, Burnley and Ipswich Town – have spoken with the defender, who made 46 appearances in the division last season, but his destination remains uncertain with two more teams stepping forward in the past 48 hours.
Portsmouth are keen to see a transfer concluded as quickly as possible and Ward is also pushing for clarity on his future.
The YEP understands that the right-back – a good friend of Pearce’s – was receptive to the idea of moving to Leeds but he is anxious to prevent the saga dragging on beyond the early stages of next week.
Warnock planned to secure up to four signings before the end of this month and Pearce became his first summer recruit when he signed a four-year contract on May 4.
The Leeds boss suggested that two more players might arrive at Elland Road this week but further additions looked unlikely today.
Warnock has not commented on his approach for Ward but he said: “I’m speaking to agents every day and I’m pushing to get deals over the line. It’s a long summer but it’s so important to keep things moving.”
Ward and Warnock are believed to have met at Thorp Arch to discuss a move last Wednesday, and Ward’s wage demands are not thought to be a complication.
He is one of Portsmouth’s lower earners and would receive a substantial pay rise by transferring to Elland Road.
But Portsmouth administrator Trevor Birch – formerly chief executive at Leeds – suggested on Tuesday that United were in danger of missing out on Ward’s signature.
“Joel Ward will be next to go but I am not certain of the timescale on that,” Birch said.
“It’s not necessarily going to be Leeds. He’s met a few other clubs and has been talking things over with them.
“We are waiting to see what the outcome will be.”
Portsmouth manager Michael Appleton said: “Leeds are the main interest but there are a few others.
“I didn’t think Joel would be short of interested parties and that has turned out to be the case. There are a lot looking at him.
“Ipswich have always shown interest, Palace are there and Burnley have come in really strong.
“Eddie Howe (Burnley’s manager) worked with him in the past at Bournemouth so you’ve got that link there.
“He’ll have a good future wherever he ends up.”
Ward is part of a long list of players on Warnock’s radar with the Leeds boss facing up to a huge rebuilding job this summer.
United are competing with Ipswich and Middlesbrough for the signature of Derby County midfielder Paul Green – due to become a free agent in July – and are also believed to have identified two other Portsmouth players, David Norris and Luke Varney, as viable targets. They are expected to be part of a mass exodus from Fratton Park.
Warnock was linked with a move for Senegalese striker El Hadji Diouf towards the end of the Championship term but Diouf’s arrival at Elland Road is far from certain, despite sources close to the player suggesting discussions about a free transfer could take place next week.
Leeds could also look to strike a deal with Clint Hill if the defender declines the offer of a new contract at Queens Park Rangers.
Hill, 33, is in talks with QPR about prolonging his stay at Loftus Road but the Premier League club are unlikely to hand their player of the year more than a 12-month extension or guarantee him regular football next season.
Asked about Hill, Warnock said: “Clint’s had a very good season and I thought he held them (QPR) together towards the end of it.
“He’s a very good player and like anything else we are looking for good players. I think everybody is.”
Beyond the incoming players on Warnock’s agenda, the United boss is attempting to move on a number of the under-contract professionals transfer-listed by him at the start of this month.
Midfielder Adam Clayton was the most high-profile name added to United’s list of available players and Burnley are poised to submit the first bid for him.
The Lancashire side are in the process of drawing up an offer for the 23-year-old, who was transfer-listed by Warnock after failing to agree an extension to his contract.
Clayton’s existing deal expires at the end of next season and his exit would generate a sizeable fee, increasing Warnock’s transfer fund.
Paul Connolly, Billy Paynter, Ramon Nunez, Andy O’Brien and Paul Rachubka are also in line to leave Elland Road with Leeds seeking to remove them from their wage bill.
“We’ve had a bit of interest in the likes of Clayton,” Warnock said. “But to a large extent you’re in the hands of other clubs, waiting for them to come in.”