With one glaring exception, Leeds United’s pre-season tour of Devon and Cornwall has been a lesson in positive PR: inclusive, welcoming, sensibly mapped out.
It was Neil Warnock’s intention and a product of his philosophy. Nurture a club’s support and they will nurture you. He had bridges to build from the outset at Elland Road – bridges burned by other people – and he has done so religiously since the day of his arrival. Three months in the job last season was enough to show him what happens when Leeds and their crowd find themselves at odds.
The concerted effort on his part to repair that relationship has done him credit. You sense it is appreciated.
On Tuesday, somewhere in the region of 400 supporters travelled into the Cornish countryside to watch an open training session and mingle with United’s players. “I’ve never seen them train before,” said one fan. “I was more bothered about this than going to the friendlies.”
So far so good. Then along comes a bid for Leeds’ club captain, in the midst of a takeover which is dragging its heels, and the old grievances return.
It was impossible not to sympathise with Warnock as he stood in the changing rooms at Bodmin Town, deflated by Robert Snodgrass’ defection but anxious too that the £3m sale should not be allowed to set the tone for next season.
He will realise that these moments have historically inflicted great damage on the mood he is working to raise.
It is clear enough that when the time came, the decision to leave was Snodgrass’. The tipping point was the bid submitted by Norwich later last week but Warnock’s desperation to keep him led him to take Snodgrass south regardless and play him in Monday’s friendly against Tavistock.
It is also clear that the prospective new owners of Leeds, whoever they are, took it upon themselves to make one final play to make the Scot reconsider.
All that can be said is that Warnock did everything he could. The timeline since he became manager in February is one of relentless courtship – granting Snodgrass’ wish by giving him the armband, securing the offer of a more realistic contract for a player of his value, talking the winger up whenever the media gave him the chance.
His sale will not be classed as Warnock’s fault. It is the legacy of a problem which precedes his appointment at Elland Road.
The question is why it took Warnock’s arrival for a deal so good to land at Snodgrass’ feet. Though the contract was never signed, it does not appear to have been a half-hearted proposal. A source close to Snodgrass told the YEP last week that it was “75 per cent right” but difficult to negotiate while the proposed takeover of the club remained incomplete.
The time to offer that level of contract was not March but last summer when the Canaries waded in with their first bid for Snodgrass.
It can hardly be argued that the Scotland international was any more impressive last season than he was in the 2010-11 term.
The reason he stood out more vividly last season was a shortage of players with comparable talent but his class has always been clear.
Leeds paid for a situation which was going nowhere until Warnock got involved. By then, it seems, it was too late.
So Snodgrass goes and Leeds move on as they did after Jonathan Howson, Max Gradel et al. The difference on this occasion is that they will move on immeasurably once the change of ownership at Elland Road occurs and provided the new owners are fit and proper in a footballing sense.
It is impossible to say never again with a player like Snodgrass – some scenarios run their own course, and the lesson of his exit on Thursday was that transfers tend to happen when footballers want them to – but the loss was symptomatic of a lack of foresight.
It is plainly a blow to Warnock and he did not pretend otherwise. Yet nine signings are in place and you get the impression that he is confident of pulling his squad together even if the takeover runs close to the start of the Championship season or beyond.
Warnock has money now from the departure of Snodgrass and time to invest it. As he said on Thursday: “It’s not like the season’s starting tomorrow. We’ve got three weeks still.”
That point not withstanding, there are some above him who could give him a hand. Snodgrass’ sale brought sharply into focus the lack of clarity about the takeover and what it will mean for the club and next season.
As time ticks on and the uncertainty continues, the pressure for answers gets more intense.
There are good reasons for silence, of course, but equally good reasons for the silence to end.
Until an announcement comes, it seems it will be left to Warnock to keep the wider Leeds United family happy.
He made a good fist of that battle in Devon and Cornwall and would no doubt be relieved to reach August 18 without any of the negativity which hung over Leeds at the start of last season.
His efforts so far do not deserve that.