It transpires that Sol Bamba was eligible to turn out for Cardiff City after all, despite Crawley Town examining similarities between his departure from Leeds United and the severance of Dean Cox’s contract at Leyton Orient.
Cox terminated his deal soon after the August transfer deadline and signed for Crawley a fortnight later but transfer-window rules forbid him from playing for his new club until January. Leeds announced Bamba’s exit on September 1 – also after the closure of the window – but the Football League confirmed this week that his contract was officially severed prior to the 11pm deadline. So Bamba can represent Cardiff now and all is well with the Football League’s rulebook.
The governing body is unlikely to field many queries like that, or not related to the Championship anyway, because FIFA’s attempts to rid the lower leagues of signings between windows is largely working. Cardiff have taken on a handful of free agents but Cardiff are in trouble and much as Neil Warnock is relieving himself in the wind by chasing an eighth promotion there, he would rather not add another relegation to his record. Elsewhere, the division is quiet.
It was never in Garry Monk’s mind to readily exploit the last remaining loophole in FIFA’s system of transfers. Leeds United’s head coach promised to monitor the market as managers do but he is quietly happy with the players on offer to him. “We’re not the biggest squad in the world,” he said on Monday, “but I like that. It gives everyone the right opportunity.”
That leads us to the conclusion that if Monk is going to find a way to eke more goals from his side before Christmas, the fix will not come from the raft of free agents who are patiently looking for work. It will come from within his existing pool. And two players in particular remain untapped 13 games into the season.
Untapped arguably does a slight disservice to Marcus Antonsson, Leeds’ player-of-the-month in August and a forward whose aptitude is obvious to the naked eye, but his short cameo at Derby County on Saturday, the shoot-on-sight, poacher’s attitude which saw him hit the post in the 95th minute, begged the question again of how best to integrate a bona fide striker.
Antonsson merits that description. In Sweden’s Allsvenskan – a top-flight league, however it stands up against the Championship – he was averaging almost five shots a game in the fixtures before his transfer to England. He posed that threat for a club in Kalmar who were not troubling the sharp end of the table. Antonsson has been far lighter on goals with Leeds than he was in Sweden but he is producing two efforts a game to Chris Wood’s three having played around half as many minutes.
An online blog, The City Talking, likens him to Davide Somma and the comparison is a good one. Somma, before his chronic knee injuries, was a tricky, imaginative and relatively quick striker who above all else needed no encouragement to shoot. He came up with goals. Antonsson’s shot against the post at Derby was akin to Somma’s volley against Norwich; something from nothing within minutes of coming off the bench. And yet on the bench was where Somma found himself most often. Simon Grayson couldn’t make him fit.
Monk squeezed Antonsson into his team in August by retreating to the conformity of a four-man midfield. If that suited Antonsson, it suited very few others. Leeds are better in their current system and they did not fall down at Derby on the basis of their pressing or their shape. It was, as Monk said, a case of being disciplined without the ball but directionless with it, until Derby got their goal and began to panic about protecting it. Whether Antonsson arrived on the field too late on Saturday is not really the point. What matters before January is finding a suitable method of involving him.
With Kemar Roofe, regular involvement would be a start. Leeds paid £3m for him in the summer, going down the Charlie Austin route by spending a fair chunk of their money on a player who was tearing up a lower league. Roofe’s form, his League Two player-of-the-year form, has not translated at all but it should come as no surprise to him that the Championship is quicker, stronger and more stingy by half. Matej Vydra is a 20-goal striker in this division. On Saturday, Derby’s striker ran himself into the ground in return for two chances, one of which was offside. In Roofe’s defence, he is a player stepping up this year. Antonsson, Pontus Jansson, Kyle Bartley, Pablo Hernandez – all have played in domestic top-flight leagues. Perhaps Leeds considered that when they offered Roofe a four-year contract.
Yet Roofe has a striker’s brain in his head. Eighteen league goals and numerous assists for Oxford United last season speak for themselves but Roofe maintained an average of three shots a match through the year, almost half of them on target. Oxford’s shots on goal were the highest in League Two. Leeds are not trying to turn him into something he isn’t. Roofe is rather in the business of acclimatising and adapting to a league he doesn’t know.
Monk will doubtless move for a new striker in January because United need one. They wanted one in August and found various avenues blocked as the window began to close. Monk is taking his medicine to a certain extent but he does have something left in reserve. Between Antonsson and Roofe he could find a way to give a disciplined team some sharper teeth.