On the face of it a sliver of doubt remains. Luciano Becchio will only be sold if Leeds United receive an acceptable offer before January ends.
Back in the real world we await the inevitable. This is a player whose attitude and commitment has been openly questioned by his manager. He was revealed on Thursday as the club’s highest earner, unwilling to accept a better wage and anxious to leave for financial gain. Justly or unjustly, Becchio has been smeared. What alternative is there now?
United’s statement about him – or the “above-named player” as they referred to their longest-serving professional – drew the usual sigh. Maybe he is, as David O’Leary once said of Jimmy Floyd Hasselbaink, a greedy son of a bitch. Or perhaps Neil Kilkenny was closer to the mark. At some stage in the cycle of regular sales, the defence of excessive wage demands loses credibility. And lost credibility it has.
Who knows what Becchio wants or how much the club are willing to pay him. Opposite sides of negotiations invariably give different answers, even off the record. The blame always lies elsewhere. That is football and this is Leeds – only ever a stone’s throw away from the next crisis.
It would be fine if Becchio was leaving because investment in United’s squad had rendered him expendable or worth more in hard cash. But the club are about to flog their only source of goals. There is nothing in the way of resources behind him. And even if they choose to keep him, the damage to Becchio’s ego is done.
The peculiarity of this situation is that Leeds have been complicit in generating speculation. Rumours about previous players were the responsibility of other people – journalists, agents, wind-up merchants. With Becchio, there was no suggestion of bids to come until Mick Jones, United’s assistant, admitted that offers were inevitable. There was no debate about his attitude until Neil Warnock singled him out after United’s defeat at Barnsley. Becchio was hopeless at Oakwell. Name an outfield player who wasn’t.
He is also the first valued asset since Fabian Delph to make for the door with more than 12 months on his contract. Make no mistake, the Argentinian will be sold if a high enough bid is submitted before Friday. United’s statement made that clear. This in the window when Warnock claimed that with him as manager and GFH Capital as owner “no key players will leave – unless we want them to.”
The cynical among you will ask whether the striker’s exit is what Leeds are looking for. You might question whether the contract offered to Becchio was competitive. It is not hard to find people – agents, players and managers – who accuse United of maintaining too tight a wage structure. When GFH Capital bought the club, we looked for a different way. But with five days to go there is nothing to positively distinguish this transfer window from the rest.
In explaining their rejection of Becchio’s demands – “beyond a level we could support” – Leeds rolled out the Financial Fair Play (FFP) regulations recently embraced by English football. It is hard to know what to make of that.
On one hand, it shows shallow expectation of United advancing quickly to a position where greater income affords a higher wage bill, otherwise known as the Premier League. On the other, it makes you wonder what Becchio was asking for.
According to United’s accounts, their wage bill in the last financial year amounted to 41.4 per cent of their turnover. They spent almost as much on administrative costs as they did on squad salaries. So no great problem there or not in relation to FFP. It might, of course, be a subtle acknowledgment that income at Elland Road is falling and pressure to pay the bills has increased. But that is a different argument altogether.
And how does all this tally with their interest in Max Gradel? The YEP’s story about Gradel on Thursday was seen by many as a plant, designed to soften the blow of Becchio’s transfer request, but the tip-off did not come from Leeds. The club were unaware that the story was due to run.
Three sources confirmed that United have explored the possibility of signing their ex-player of the year, bizarre though it now sounds. Gradel earns more at St Etienne than Becchio earns at Leeds. He would cost as much as United can expect to raise by selling Becchio. He is also the sort of player on whose service Becchio previously thrived. The dots barely join up.
As for Becchio, his season has been a contradiction. He has farmed goals like the best of them without truly shining. The supply to him is undeniably erratic but when Leeds have been poor, he has been poor. You could say it hardly matters in the face of 19 goals but that is contrary to the criticism thrown at Warnock for the style of football leading to six straight home wins. Football is not simply a game of results.
Where Becchio is concerned, there are certain forwards out there as talented as him and some have more strings to their bow.
But the legacy of previous transfer windows is that no-one in Leeds has any faith in United’s ability to find them or sign them.
And if GFH Capital believes that the reaction to Becchio’s transfer request has been any different, it is only fooling itself.