Neil Warnock insisted today that he would replace transfer-listed Adam Clayton with a higher calibre of Championship midfielder, saying: “He’s not worth more than the player I’ll sign.”
The Leeds United manager defended his decision to make Clayton available for a close-season move and suggested that the 23-year-old’s exit would pave the way for a £500,000 replacement.
Leeds are actively seeking a buyer for Clayton having failed to agree a new contract with a player whose deal expires next summer, and the midfielder is resigned to leaving Elland Road after learning of Warnock’s plans at a scheduled meeting on Wednesday.
His appearance on the transfer list was the most unexpected development on an afternoon when Warnock clarified the future of his entire squad, releasing five out-of-contract players and transfer-listing no fewer than six more.
The Leeds boss offered hope of a reprieve to Clayton by admitting the midfielder will have a chance to re-establish himself in pre-season if acceptable offers fail to materialise before training begins on July 4, but the YEP understands that Clayton would favour a transfer elsewhere in the wake of his appearance on the transfer list.
Warnock’s sacrifice of an emerging footballer who played 46 times for Leeds this season provoked a mixed public reaction, but he claimed the club were “realistic” in the level of salary they were willing to pay Clayton. The sides engaged in two rounds of talks, though a formal offer was never made.
Warnock said: “It was pointless fudging it. I’m sure there’ll be a number of clubs after Adam because he’s done well this season in a lot of games.
“But if we can’t agree what I think is a decent offer, we have to move on quickly. If there are casualties then so be it. We don’t have time to dwell on that and you’ve got to make decisions. I want to be doing things yesterday.
“Like a few other players he only had a year left and it’s up to the club to make a realistic offer. I felt that the offer from the club was realistic.
“I have to look at it and say that I’ll be signing a player for £400,000 or £500,000 and I don’t feel Adam’s worth more than the player I’ll be signing.
“With what I’m looking for, I’ve got to generate something to get me what I want.
“That’s how I looked at it and I’m trying to be a realist.
“We weren’t going to throw money at it just because we made a big contract offer to (Robert) Snodgrass.
“Robert’s a special player at Leeds. He’s been here a long time and he’s seen a lot of his team-mates depart. That’s why I felt we had to offer him the top rate.”
Warnock promised one surprise prior to the announcement of his retained list, and the planned sale of Clayton was it.
But Wednesday’s announcement was taken as a shown of faith in several players, not least goalkeeper Andy Lonergan and striker Luciano Becchio – for so long a lynchpin in United’s line-up but a player whose starred has dimmed in the past 12 months.
Hamstring surgery delayed the start of his season and Becchio’s form never recovered, despite him finishing with 11 goals.
Warnock will attempt to re-integrate him more effectively next season after sparing the Argentinian and transfer-listing Billy Paynter instead.
“I’m a big fan of Becchio,” Warnock said. “He can be a much better player than I’ve seen so far and that’s something I’ll be working on in pre-season.
“It’s also why I put Billy Paynter on the transfer list. If I do bring another striker in then he needs to be different to those two.
“We’re looking at pace in a few areas and I’m trying to get the right balance on the ins and outs.”
Less surprising than Clayton’s demise but unpredictable all the same was Warnock’s offer of a new 12-month deal to Michael Brown, one of several players who had reached the end of their contracts and the only one bar Aidan White to be handed an extension.
Brown turned 35 in January and endured a disjointed first season at Elland Road. Brought in on a free transfer from Portsmouth last summer, supposedly as an experienced head in the team managed by Warnock’s predecessor, Simon Grayson, the midfielder played just 13 times under the coach who signed him.
His involvement became more regular after Warnock’s appointment and he was recalled to Leeds’ starting line-up for their final Championship game against Leicester City after serving a three-match ban.
Leeds have taken up an option to extend his deal for a further 12 months, though the offer to Brown – one of the club’s higher earners – is a reduction on the wage he received this season. Warnock dangled a carrot in front of him by hinting that Brown could figure prominently next season, despite his age and despite the likelihood of multiple additions to United’s midfield ranks.
“He’s the type of person I like around the club,” said Warnock, whose association with Brown goes back many years.
“Since I came here he’s been my best player in most of the games in my eyes. I feel he’s got something to offer.
“I also think that with the other players I’m bringing in and the legs they’ve got, he might surprise us all and play more than we think.
“I’ve offered him quite a reduced wage from what he’s been on but it’s an offer that will stop him going down a level.
“At this stage of his career I don’t think Michael wants to think about doing that.
“The offer’s on a par with what I think he’ll get offered elsewhere and somebody like Michael is always good to have around, if you use him in the right way. I trust him totally.”