Cardiff City v Leeds United: O'Brien primed for Bluebirds fans backlash

When Andy O'Brien cut his ties with Bradford City in 2001 and accepted a contract from Newcastle United, he was bemused to discover that his Magpies debut would be made at Valley Parade.

It is almost in keeping with a past coincidence that the final appearance of his loan at Leeds United will be made tonight against the club with whom he discussed a transfer last week.

* Click here to sign up to free Leeds Unnited email alerts from your YEP.

O'Brien can now expect to be the focus of a crowd that would otherwise have paid him little or no heed.

He will become a full-time Leeds player after this evening's game in

South Wales, signing his name to the two-and-a-half year deal agreed with United on Friday. Twenty-four hours earlier he had been in Cardiff, meeting Dave Jones and listening to what City's manager could offer him.

* Click here to watch the latest edition of our Leeds United preview programme The Boot Room.

The reality for O'Brien is that he could conceivably have played for either of the clubs who are preparing to contest a crucial Championship fixture tonight.

Once Leeds confirmed that they would match the terms laid out by Jones and sign O'Brien from Bolton Wanderers on a permanent basis, the 31-year-old was in a position to make his choice. Jones could only wait for a phone call which never came.

O'Brien is of the opinion that he handled his negotiations "the right way" by dealing openly with all the parties involved, but he could be forgiven for feeling discomfort about the timing of United's visit to the Welsh capital.

"I'm used to it," O'Brien said. "When I signed for Newcastle from Bradford, my first game was against Bradford. I was lining up in the tunnel with people who'd been my team-mates, having a bit of banter. I had to go head-to-head with them and it wasn't a problem.

"I don't know any of the Cardiff lads and I suppose they might look to kick the you-know-what out of me. But it's nothing new.

"Cardiff presumably saw something they liked in me and they knew I was

out of contract in the summer.

"I went down there and spoke to Dave Jones and he was waiting for a phone call.

"They were the first people to make me an offer and that might have instigated the deal I got at Leeds. Cardiff's interest obviously became public, but there are loads of deals and talks involving players which nobody knows anything about."

O'Brien's management of discussions with Cardiff and Leeds made him unusual, if not quite unique, in footballing circles. A player without an agent is like a player without boots, lacking what is now seen as a basic requirement of a professional footballer. O'Brien does not retain


The defender travelled to Wales alone and was joined at Elland Road by his father, a source of moral support in a typically memorable meeting with United chairman Ken Bates.

O'Brien's mention of sleepless nights prior to both sets of negotiations left little doubt about the tension he felt but he was anxious to prevent an agent or third party complicating talks with either Leeds or Cardiff.

"I did all the dealings myself," he said. "I spoke to Ken Bates by myself and did all the negotiations.

"The meeting with Mr Bates is something I'll remember for the rest of my life. It was a bit like when I signed my first contract at Bradford with (then City chairman) Geoffrey Richmond. That was entertaining as well.

"My dad came in with me initially and he's a big bloke of around 20 stone. The chairman's first words were 'we'll sign the fat one instead.' My dad replied that he'd been on a diet for six weeks, to which Mr Bates said 'that's not effing working, is it?'

"My dad's quite quick-witted and said 'well I don't know what your excuse is!' It went on from there. The great thing is I lived to tell the tale.

"I don't have an agent and sometimes honesty's the best way. If a club want you then what they offer you is what they offer you.

"Stuart McCall once said to me 'just sign whatever offer you get'. If you're any good then the same club will either reward you later or someone else will buy you. I've always stuck to that philosophy."

Leeds' decision to meet the terms put to O'Brien by the Bluebirds was the clearest demonstration of how highly the centre-back was valued by the club and their manager, Simon Grayson. That admiration was no great secret amid the pivotal unbeaten run which began on the afternoon of his debut at Scunthorpe United.

At that stage, United were desperate for a defender of O'Brien's stock. The player himself was looking for a club more willing to use him than Bolton were.

He came to Elland Road in October knowing that his parent club were unlikely to field him again before his contract expired next summer, and the completion of a permanent transfer to Leeds later this week will draw a line under an unfulfilling period of his career.

O'Brien finds himself now in the thick of a team who could join Bolton in the Premier League in less than six months' time, much to their own surprise. Tonight's game with Cardiff is a meeting between two clubs within throwing distance of the Championship's final automatic promotion place.

"One thing I'd like to thank Leeds for is making me welcome," O'Brien said. "Feeling welcome is a massive part of all this.

"I'm fortunate that my loan's gone well and had we not got results then I wouldn't have lasted long – I wouldn't be here – but our form hasn't solely been about me.

"One of the first things I noticed when I came here was that there are no egos and no big-heads. It's just hard work and enthusiasm. There are lots of young players who don't think they know it all.

"Some people will take the attitude that Leeds were in League One last season and should be delighted with where we are in the Championship. Other people will be frustrated that we drew with Leicester and Portsmouth and could have been in second place.

"You'll get a different attitude after every result, but that's testament to how well the club are doing. The reward is so big and it's within reach."