Danny Webber has vowed to restore his match fitness by “running through the pain barrier” after ending his eight-month exile from football with a move to Leeds United.
The 30-year-old winger arrived at Elland Road insisting he was ready to throw himself into the last two months of United’s season, despite his extended spell away from the game.
Webber became the first signing of new Leeds manager Neil Warnock when he agreed a short-term deal on Tuesday, and he could make his first-team debut in Saturday’s clash with league leaders Southampton.
His career has been on hold since his contract with Portsmouth expired last summer and a foot injury sustained while on trial under Warnock at Queens Park Rangers left him without a club during the first half of this season.
But Webber was recently given the chance to train and build up his fitness with Manchester United, the club where he started out as a trainee, and Warnock handed him a contract until the end of the term after bringing the forward to Thorp Arch on trial last week.
The United boss went in search of another attacking player after seeing Andros Townsend cut short his loan from Tottenham Hotspur ahead of Leeds’ goalless draw at Portsmouth.
Webber was given a run-out in a reserve fixture against Middlesbrough on Tuesday and could feature in this weekend’s match against Southampton, the first of 13 remaining Championship games.
“I did my pre-season under the gaffer at QPR but managed to get injured,” Webber said. “It took me a few months to get up and running.
“Since then, the boss at Manchester United (Sir Alex Ferguson) let me go back in there, train and build myself up. I’ve been trying to get myself going.
“With my match fitness, obviously I’ve not played for a while. I’ve been doing a lot of training and there’s a big difference between the two but I’ll put it in, run through the pain barrier and be fit as quickly as I can.”
His conditioning aside, Webber is a known quantity to Warnock after their time together at Sheffield United.
Warnock paid around £500,000 to sign Webber from Watford in 2005 and the forward played 37 times during the 2005-06 campaign, a season in which Sheffield United won automatic promotion from the Championship at Leeds’ expense. He made 22 outings in the Premier League during the following term.
His status as a free agent allowed Warnock to sign him for a second time this week, prior to his appearance in a behind-closed-doors friendly at Thorp Arch. He played for 45 minutes as two goals from Billy Paynter earned a 2-1 win over Boro.
Webber’s last competitive outing came on the final day of the 2010-11 term – a substitute appearance for Portsmouth against Scunthorpe United – but Warnock is looking to harness his pace and his ability to operate as either a winger or a striker.
“It felt good just to be playing a football match again,” Webber said. “An actual game, albeit a reserve game. It really doesn’t matter. The more minutes I get under my belt, the fitter I’ll get and the better I’ll get, the better my performances will be.
“The manager knows I can play in numerous positions and he wants me to get stuck in very quickly.
“He knows how to get the best out of people. If you’re one of his players he looks after you and looks after you right to the end. He’ll back you and it’s important to have the support of the manager you’re playing for. He’s good like that.
“I’ve enjoyed good parts of my career under him and he knows how to get the best out of his players. He knows how to motivate people and he’ll do that with everyone here. I want to hit the ground running.”
Webber has come to Elland Road at a critical time, with United’s pursuit of the play-offs on a knife-edge.
Saturday’s meeting with Southampton is the beginning of a gruelling sequence of games which continues against Hull City, Boro and West Ham United. A trip to Millwall, so often a thankless hunting ground for Leeds, awaits on the penultimate weekend of this month.
Webber signed his deal believing the play-offs could be reached if United find a consistent vein of form during their last 13 games.
“It’s within touching distance,” he said. “A good run-in between now and May and you really don’t know where the club might end up.
“Southampton have been flying as everyone can see but every team’s there to be beaten. I remember when we were top of the league at Sheffield United – everyone came looking to beat us. We’ll be going into the game feeling positive.
“We’ve got to stick together and make sure we do the little things right to paint the bigger picture. There’s enough experience here, and enough youth. You need both to crack on.”
Webber’s initial contract with Leeds runs until the summer and neither he nor Warnock are likely to decide his long-term future until Webber has settled at Elland Road.
Warnock himself has the option to move on from Leeds when the season ends if, in his words, “things don’t work out”.
Like several players who Warnock has relied on before, Webber might have hoped that the 63-year-old’s appointment at Leeds would open a door for him.
Defensive signings were at the top of Warnock’s list of priorities when he stepped through the door but an opportunity for Webber presented itself when Townsend decided he had no interest in being part of the post-Simon Grayson era.
“You never take anything for granted,” Webber said. “Basically it was down to a phone call.
“I’d been keeping myself going and training at a few other places and I got a call telling me to come down and have a look. I’m happy the call came and I’m raring to go.
“Leeds are a massive club and you can see the history of the place, and obviously I played under Neil Warnock at Sheffield United. But first things first.
“I’m under no illusions about where I’m at. I’ve got the opportunity to come here, prove myself and then we’ll look at things in the summer.”