Leeds United: Keeping Johnson isn't a Brad idea - Hay

Leeds United's decision to place Bradley Johnson on the transfer list was seen by him as vindictive.

The club saw it as business.

In withdrawing from contract talks in mid-November, they made the point that their central midfielder was an asset of limited value.

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Their intention of selling him in this transfer window nevertheless depended on several factors: a club offering enough money to make his sale worthwhile; Johnson agreeing to join whichever club that was; and Leeds recruiting enough midfielders to make a dispensable footballer peripheral.

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A number of "polite offers" have materialised, according to Simon Grayson, which is another way of saying nothing worth considering. Keen though they are to recoup money from the remainder of Johnson's contract, Leeds were not in the market to flog him for the best price.

His availability was conditional on a fairly strict valuation.

On that basis alone, Johnson can surmise that his appearance on the transfer list was not a cynical attempt to force him through the door.

It was the obvious answer to the threat of a 23-year-old worth 250,000 in 2008 departing for nothing in six months' time.

Johnson would have a point in asking why Leeds have not taken the same tact with Neil Kilkenny, but Kilkenny's business is his own.

He, in any case, is as likely as Johnson to be drawing his wage from another club next season.

On the morning of November 18, when Leeds announced Johnson's rejection of a final contract offer, it was probable if not certain that he would be on the books of another club by the start of next month.

A quick divorce was encouraged by his run-in with the crowd at Elland Road during United's win over Crystal Palace. Between that and a public squabble with Ken Bates, the situation strayed beyond reconciliation.

From the point of view of Johnson's contract, it may still be. But as Grayson said himself, the wisdom of a January sale is no longer as clear as it was two months ago. Leeds have 10 days in which to find a buyer but only 10 days in which to ensure that Johnson's shirt is adequately filled.

The club cannot afford one without the other. For the past fortnight, Grayson has made do with only two central midfielders.

This season has proven fairly conclusively that one of those, Jonathan

Howson, is more comfortable and effective in a different position. His bench against Scunthorpe United consisted of three strikers, three defenders and a goalkeeper and, barring any signings today, he will have difficulty in varying that choice at Portsmouth.

Leeds are one injury or dismissal away from finding a wide hole in the centre of their team.

Circumstances have worsened that problem, not least the loss of Kilkenny to an international tournament in which he has played 11 minutes so far.

Should Australia win their quarter-final tomorrow, he will remain at the Asian Cup until at least the middle of next week.

The release of Amdy Faye lowered Grayson's headcount further, but there were valid doubts about Faye's ability to cope with the physical strain of a full English season.

That is one a Johnson's strengths – a level of fitness which compares favourably with most professionals in the Championship.

He is one of only two ever-present players at Leeds, alongside Howson.

Faye provided padding in United's squad, and retaining him was a straightforward way of maintaining numbers in the right area.

But Johnson is a player who Grayson can realistically expect to complete 19 league games between now and the end of the season, something that could not have been said about Faye.

Given a choice between the pair, there is no debate about which footballer has more to offer.

In the days to come, United will sign new midfielders. They have to. Grayson made no secret of his plans at the start of the month and admitted last week that he was uncomfortably short of alternatives to Johnson and Howson.

The effect was a clear reluctance to sell Johnson immediately – "if at all."

It is not inconceivable that Leeds will be in a position to listen to or encourage offers for the midfielder in the final hours of the transfer window, but the evidence of the past six weeks – indeed, since Johnson was transfer-listed – suggests that Leeds might have more to gain by handling him as they did Jermaine Beckford 12 months ago.

Johnson is a useful asset and an integral part of Grayson's line-up.

It would do no harm to keep a player whose engine has contributed to Leeds' better form this season, even if the cost is a free transfer in June. Plans for his departure should always have been tempered by an assessment of whether United's squad could bear it.

Presently, the numbers do not add up.

As for his diminishing contract, Johnson still talks of extending it. One argument says that his contribution since the end of November deserves further negotiations; another argument – one this column shares – is that Leeds would be better pondering another offer in the summer, on the basis of performances over six months rather than performances over two.

There are other midfielders out there, as Johnson will discover in the next week or so. It is the club's prerogative to decide where they direct their money. But selling him now? The logic is thin. The more you see of Johnson the more you conclude that Leeds could do worse than allow his deal to run its course.

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