IN THE DARK: Brian McDermott is still waiting to see if he will be in charge next term and if so which players he can sign or keep. Phil Hay reports.
Leeds United’s players and coaching staff are drifting away on holiday without answers or guidance about the club’s next move.
The squad at Elland Road broke for the summer after Saturday night’s player-of-the-year awards ceremony but they have taken their leave in the absence of a retained list or any word about which of them should report back for the start of pre-season training.
As of last night, the glut of professionals whose contracts expire next month had received no contact from Leeds about plans to release them or renew their deals before next season begins. Some like goalkeeper Jamie Ashdown have taken the view that the club’s silence is their cue to look for employment elsewhere.
It seemed likely that Massimo Cellino, United’s Italian owner, would react quickly after a 1-1 draw with Derby County on Saturday, the last game of the 2013-14 term. But as Cellino fights with financial liabilities inherited during his takeover of Leeds, the playing side of the business remains relatively untouched.
An anticipated meeting between Cellino and manager Brian McDermott – one which United’s boss first talked about three weeks ago – has not taken place, and the pair are understood to have had no contact since the weekend.
Cellino implied in a recent interview that he would take time to consider whether McDermott should figure in his vision for Leeds, but McDermott holds a contract until 2016 and would cost somewhere in the region of £1.5m to pay off.
Certain changes to the coaching set-up at Thorp Arch have already been implemented. Benito Carbone, the former Bradford City striker, joined the academy staff late last month and has been analysing United’s youth-team system for the past two weeks, arranging a series of friendlies for their junior squads.
McDermott, meanwhile, will lose fitness coach Jon Goodman, though Goodman – previously a sports scientist at Reading - is parting company with the club this summer at his own request. When the 42-year-old joined Leeds 12 months ago, he told them that he would move on after one season to pursue other projects closer to home in the south of England.
But the future of McDermott, assistant manager Nigel Gibbs and first-team coach Neil Redfearn – also United’s development squad coach – is still as unclear as the plans for the playing squad. Leeds are free to release for than 10 senior and junior players, and a number of prominent, high-earning footballers are returning to Elland Road after loans with other clubs.
Steve Morison – a striker who McDermott dispatched to Millwall at the beginning of this season – completed his time in south London with a 90-minute appearance in Millwall’s 1-0 win over Bournemouth on Saturday and is tied to United for the next two years.
Ian Holloway, Millwall’s manager, has not spoken publicly about the possibility of re-signing Morison but Morison is one of Leeds’ top earners on around £17,000 a week and would almost certainly be asked to take a pay cut to move to Bermondsey permanently.
Millwall used him 42 times during a fraught Championship term in which the club fought relegation and survived by a margin of four points. Morison scored eight times and played as a substitute during much of the run-in. #
Former Leeds captain Lee Peltier is also awaiting developments after a shorter spell with Nottingham Forest. The full-back – Neil Warnock’s most expensive signing as Leeds boss – has 12 months of his three-year deal to run but seems interested in moving to the City Ground once former England Under-21 boss Stuart Pearce takes charge as manager of Forest on July 1.
“I don’t know what my future holds,” Peltier said.
“I’ll sit down with my agent and discuss what happens.
“I’ve been focused on playing (for Forest) and I’ve not spoken to anyone about anything beyond this season. I’ll have a good chat with my agent and go from there.
“Forest have a strong team and will be right up there next season.
“They have a good chairman (Fawaz Al-Hasawi) who’s backing them. It’s a good club and I’ve really enjoyed my time here.”
There are others at Elland Road who remain under contract but have played sporadically during McDermott’s time in charge.
David Norris – another of Warnock’s recruits – suffered a knee injury before Christmas but was peripheral before and after his spell on the sidelines, appearing only once in a League Cup tie against Chesterfield in August.
Noel Hunt featured in fewer than half of United’s Championship fixtures and Aidan White started more games on loan at Sheffield United than he did for Leeds.
Like Michael Tonge and others, White’s most concerted involvement under McDermott came in the closing stages of the campaign.
Leeds also need to address the goalkeeper’s position after Jack Butland’s loan from Stoke City ended on Saturday. With Ashdown and Alex Cairns both out of contract and likely to leave the club, United could be left with only Paddy Kenny on their books. The 35-year-old had been the Whites’ first-choice keeper but was replaced by Butland in February having carried an ankle injury for a month and a half but his recovery before the end of the Championship term did not lead to a return to McDermott’s squad.
Leeds are understood to have considered sending Kenny on loan to Bradford City at the end of March but the transfer failed to materialise before the Football League’s emergency loan deadline. Southend United keeper Daniel Bentley is among the players watched by McDermott recently, with United’s manager attempting to put together a list of summer transfer targets, in spite of the uncertainty surrounding his job.
Former Reading boss McDermott has also taken an interest in Scott Hogan, the young forward who scored 22 times this season and inspired Rochdale’s automatic promotion from League Two. One of Hogan’s goals helped condemn Leeds to a 2-0 defeat at Spotland in the FA Cup’s third round in January.