Leeds United goalkeeper Andy Lonergan expected the period between Simon Grayson’s sacking and the appointment of his successor to be a “nervous spell” amid doubts about who will be charged with grasping the reins at Elland Road.
Uncertainty in times of transition affects the majority of players, and new signings more than most. For the likes of Robbie Rogers and Adam Smith, the manager who recruited them moved on last week before they had the chance to play for him.
Rogers’ protracted move to Leeds was officially completed on January 19 and Smith agreed to half-season loan from Tottenham Hotspur on the day before Grayson’s dismissal. The situation at Elland Road is not what they expected when pen was put to paper in the transfer window.
Twenty-year-old Smith has enough reason to feel pragmatic about the clean sweep at Thorp Arch. Fresh from a successful loan at MK Dons and anticipating the offer of a new contract from Spurs at the end of the season, his prospects in English football look sound enough. Rogers, by comparison, has more to prove after leaving Major League Soccer club Columbus Crew to take up a first opportunity in England and Europe.
Grayson offered the American international a trial before Christmas and handed him an 18-month contract with the option of a further year midway through the winter transfer window. He was one of four signings completed in January and the only permanent acquisition made by United.
The deal was dependent on a work permit appeal and subsequently confirmed after the Home Office accepted his application. A brief wait for international clearance delayed Rogers’ availability until after Leeds’ 3-1 win over Ipswich Town, Grayson’s penultimate match in charge.
The plan was to blood Rogers in United’s Championship clash with Birmingham City but the 24-year-old returned to America to deal with a handful of remaining formalities and was not included in Grayson’s squad.
The following afternoon, Leeds called time on their manager’s long tenure, beginning the search for new guidance and leadership with the play-offs threatening to slip away.
“Obviously the old manager wanted me in and he’s gone already,” Rogers said.
“Now that I’m here I’ll need to prove to whoever’s going to be the manager that I want to be here and want to stay.
“It’s really strange when you come to a new place and everything changes only a week after you sign. But that’s how life is and that’s how football is. I’ve got to get used to it.”
The early signs for both Rogers and Smith have still been encouraging. Caretaker manager Neil Redfearn gave Smith his full debut at Bristol City last Saturday and named Rogers on the bench. Rogers finished the game as an unused substitute, at the end of a 3-0 win.
His attempts to settle in quickly at Thorp Arch have been affected by the effort required to finalise his transfer and secure employment rights in England. The weather, meanwhile, denied him a useful run-out in a planned reserve game against Middlesbrough on Tuesday, a match which returning defender Andy O’Brien was also due to play in.
Rogers has experienced no competitive football since the MLS season finished in November but his selection by Redfearn last weekend implied that his match fitness is no longer an issue.
“It’s just good to be back with the football at my feet,” Rogers said. “It’s time to get settled and get properly fit now.
“I had to go to New York to get my visa last month and it was really strange going back to the country I’d just left. I was there for about a week and I tried to get some training in but I really wanted to be back here. I’m finally in my apartment now and feeling better.
“I still need to get some fitness work in and maybe some reserve games to get up to pace but I’m raring to go. Coming to England had always been a dream of mine. I had interest from English teams in the past but nothing as serious as from Leeds.
“I think playing in England could suit my style. I’ve watched a few games now and with my pace – especially in games which open up in the second half - I could really help in that area and get at defenders.”
United’s squad has no shortage of wingers, and Rogers was joined on the bench at Ashton Gate by Andros Townsend with Robert Snodgrass and Aidan White employed on either flank by Redfearn.
Smith, however, arrived to fill a defensive role which had been lacking in cover ever since Grayson decided to sideline Paul Connolly, his established right-back, after a 4-1 defeat to Barnsley on New Year’s Eve.
Smith’s loan at League One side MK Dons during the first half of this season showcased his talent as an attacking full-back, and the dismissal of two Bristol City players gave him a licence to get forward throughout the second half on Saturday.
“I feel I’ve done my time in League One and I was ready for a chance in the Championship,” Smith said.
“The attraction of coming to Leeds was the club itself. They’re a massive club with a massive fanbase and good players. I had no hesitation whatsoever in coming here.
“I was meant to be at MK Dons for the whole season and Tottenham just recalled me. With it being the last day of the window I was pretty surprised.
“Literally, the move here was done within a day of leaving MK Dons. I found out, packed my bags and came straight here.”
Redfearn will be in caretaker charge for his second successive game this weekend, and a 3-0 win at Bristol City gave him few reasons to consider changing his line-up or his squad.
Leeds battled through a difficult first half to take advantage of red cards shown to Bristol City’s James Wilson and Yannick Bolasie, and Redfearn said: “We hung on in there and we can take the result into Saturday. We’ll gear ourselves up for that.”