Neil Warnock fuelled doubts about the future of Luciano Becchio by questioning whether the striker was being distracted by transfer talk after Leeds United’s 2-0 defeat at Barnsley.
Warnock admitted to a suspicion that Becchio’s head had been turned prior to Saturday’s derby, claiming his top-scorer “wasn’t his usual self” during a sorry display at Oakwell.
Becchio, who has claimed 19 goals this season, contributed to an inept display from Leeds in South Yorkshire and failed to produce an effort of note as United slipped to their 11th loss of the Championship term.
The Argentinian has dominated the headlines at Elland Road with his prolific strikerate, and United assistant manager Mick Jones warned in the early days of the transfer window that Leeds were liable to face January offers for him from England and abroad.
United are not believed to have received any formal bids as yet and Warnock has been told by club owners GFH Capital that he is under no pressure to sell any prominent players, but the Leeds boss seemed concerned by Becchio’s attitude in Saturday’s match.
Warnock said: “He wasn’t his usual self. But I’m afraid it’s that time of year when agents put a lot of things in people’s minds and managers have to deal with it and see what happens. I’m not on my own there.”
Asked if he thought Becchio had been distracted by potential opportunities elsewhere, Warnock said: “I don’t know but I’ll find out. For another couple of weeks, this is what we’re all up against. That’s why the window’s such a nightmare for managers.”
Becchio’s contract with Leeds runs for another 18 months and the 29-year-old would be likely to command a fee of several million pounds.
Hull are understood to have taken an interest in him before the turn of the year, but it is not clear whether they intend to submit a bid in the final fortnight of the January window.
Warnock was more keen to focus on the prospect of further additions to his squad after Leeds lost 2-0 to a Barnsley side who were bottom of the Championship before kick-off and registered their first home win in the league since September 1.
Two goals from Chris Dagnall in the space of three second-half minutes consigned United to an unflattering loss which led to criticism of Warnock and his players from an away crowd of 5,000 fans.
The Leeds boss admitted that his players had missed an opportunity to collect three valuable points, saying: “I was very confident before the game. You can get away with one or two players having an off day but not four, five or six. You can’t get away with that against anybody. We have to regroup now.
“We were very poor in the first half and no excuses about that. If I’d been one of the 5,000 fans, then I might have said the same as they did when we came off at half-time.
“I’ve never seen our midfield as poor as they were in the first half but credit to Barnsley. It’s a derby and they were up and at us. We couldn’t get started until the second half.”
Warnock handed a debut to Ross Barkley 24 hours after signing the England Under-21 international from Everton, and he described his display as the “bright spark” on a disappointing afternoon.
“I apologised to him afterwards and said ‘we’re not always like that’,” Warnock admitted. “It was a good debut and he was probably the bright spark of the team. Our problems didn’t come from Ross.”